Making a difference with Angel Tree Program

Holiday Wishes Aren’t Always What You Expect

The holidays can feel excessive. 

So much food and drink, shopping…and just stuff – everywhere.  I know by the end of it all, I feel like I need a holiday from the holidays.  But that’s not the reality for everyone.  I’ve recently discovered that in my own neighborhood, there are kids with wish lists that are anything but excessive. Some even include essentials like toothbrushes, deodorant and diapers for siblings.  Lissa Hussian, Jessica Grunfeld, and Sallyjo Levine, or as I like to call them – the Broad Street Angels, are ensuring hundreds of those wishes come true every year with their participation in the Salvation Army Angel Tree Program.

The Salvation Army is well known for its charitable work, especially around the holidays.  The signature red bucket and smiling volunteer ringing a bell outside the shopping mall is an expectation every holiday season.  The Salvation Army Angel Tree Program began in 1979 as an effort to provide gifts of toys or clothing for needy children for Christmas.  The concept was to match donors with individual children with specific needs – a more personal feel to giving. This highly successful program has been adopted by nearly all Salvation Army locations nationwide, bringing joy to thousands of people every year.

A Whole New Level of Giving

The Broad Street Angel Tree Program originated in 2010. Approximately 60 families joined together to sponsor children through the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree Program.  They provided a great service to the community, fulfilling the wishes of 40-80 children every year. 

When the Broad Street Angels took charge of the program in 2018, the trio’s organizational skills and commitment to growing the project led to exponential growth.  They have taken their building’s participation to an entirely different level, now providing gifts for most of the needy children registered with the Angel Tree program at the Salvation Army’s New York Temple Corps location

In 2017, 83 children were served.  By 2020, the Broad Street Angels had already expanded that to 362 children and seniors.  And they have no intention of limiting their numbers.

Whose Wishes Are Coming True?

The success of the Angel Tree program is largely due to its highly personal nature.  As Lissa explained, “It’s an actual child whose name you know, whose size you know.  It’s not like you’re just giving into a void.  And I think that helps people connect with it more so than some other programs.” 

Each Salvation Army location provides for a designated area of the city, and the recipients of the Broad Street Angels’ project all live in lower Manhattan.  Captain Danielle Hall, leading this year’s effort at the New York Temple Corps, explained that they connect with members of the local community through various forms of outreach, including their daily feeding and children’s music programs. 

The applicants’ process is similar to applying for social services.  When asked if they had difficulty coping with the Broad Street Angels’ increasing requests for recipients, Captain Hall responded, “The hardest part is not finding a person in need, but it’s more on an organizational level.  It can get really overwhelming.”

Giving a Little Extra

The Salvation Army’s objective is to provide something special during the holidays, and they try to ensure this by asking for lists of specific needs.  “One of our main goals is to be able to give people a little extra.  Many parents might be able to buy one gift for their child.  I’m not a parent yet, but I do think if I were to have kids, it would be really hard if I could only give them one gift,” Captain Hall explained. 

The Broad Street Angels have fully embraced this idea and implemented their own rules to make sure each recipient feels special.  They require that donors provide everything on the wish list, meeting the specifics such as size and favorite color.  In addition, all gifts must be brand new. 

They explained that for many of these children and seniors, this is the only time of the year that they receive something new, so they take “sticking to the list” very seriously.  A donor can expect to spend approximately $100 to complete a list.  Many times, donors go above and beyond, adding essentials such as warm blankets and socks if not already specifically requested.

Broad Street Angels Gifts for Project
“The sheer magnitude of gifts that we are delivering is tremendous.  When one of the Salvation Army volunteers showed up last year to do a pickup, he burst into tears.  He said – you cannot imagine how life-changing this is for people.” Lissa recalled.

What’s on the Lists?

Naively, I asked for any surprising or funny requests they remembered – assuming I would hear about quirky toys or unique games.  But the answer I received made me realize how out of touch I am with other people’s reality.  “It’s very sad sometimes,” Jessica said, pointing out that the children’s needs are often very basic.  When they receive the recipients’ lists the first time, it’s always overwhelming.  “The first time you look at the list, you cry, and then we try to become businesslike about it,” Lissa explained.

“It’s very humbling to see kids asking for pajamas, and underpants and blankets.”

Lissa Hussian

While traditionally the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree Program has only served children, the Broad Street Angels’ effort has been so large, they have been able to help local seniors as well.  In addition to warm clothing and outerwear, a common request is luggage with wheels, which is a likely indicator that the senior lives in the shelter system.      

A Broad Street Storefront

As you can imagine, this isn’t just a December effort.  The Broad Street Angels work all year to collect enough supplies and “back-up” items to ensure the project’s success.  Jessica organizes their “store,” a supply room in the basement of their building where they stock up on new clothing, toys, household items and bags to use for distribution.

Broad Street Angels' Store
“Every year, we have a dream of having a storefront,” Jessica laughs.

Accepting donations year-round has provided the opportunity to extend their Angel Tree Program to new reaches.  Last year, for back-to-school time, they provided new backpacks to the children in the Salvation Army’s music program.  They’ve also been able to provide laptops, tablets and even a computer desk for online learning. 

It Takes a Village

Although the Broad Street Angels drive this effort, they know it wouldn’t be possible without the support of their building’s staff, their own children and families, and hundreds of donors.  They are extremely grateful and continue to be amazed with their generosity of time, effort, and gifts.

A couple of years ago, when I dropped off my donation for the first time, I was impressed with the helpfulness and positive attitude of the staff.  As they efficiently added my contribution to the stockpile of gifts, I was lucky to catch a glimpse of the massive accumulation of bags and boxes. The building receives hundreds of extra packages on top of the already extraordinary amount they receive during the holidays for residents.

“It’s a huge undertaking from the staff.  They are incredibly, incredibly helpful and accommodating,” Jessica explained.

Giving Has Never Been So Easy

The Broad Street Angels know that there are still many in need, and they’re trying to expand beyond the neighborhood to meet that need.  They are happy to receive donations in person at their building or in shipments as well. Last year, due to Covid, they received more shipments than in person drop-offs for the first time.  Lissa further explained, “We’re receiving a lot more shipments, which is good for us because it helps us reach people who aren’t in the neighborhood.  We have a donor who’s in Portugal who is sending things to us.”   

Additionally, they are happy to do the shopping for you if you want to make a monetary donation.  They want to make giving as easy as possible.

Time to Change a Life

Although the holidays can give us that feeling of excess, don’t be afraid to dig a little deeper into the reality of your own neighborhood.  Captain Hall expressed to me, “The need never stops.  There’s always a need for something.  We need resources to be able to continue to feed, to continue to give.  That’s why I appreciate so much the help of our donors.” 

The Broad Street Angels are still designating matches this year – so there’s still time to make a true difference this holiday season.  They will make it as simple as possible for you.  And even if it’s May when you’re finally reading this, the Angels will be happy to add anything you can give to their store. 

Lissa eloquently articulated their goal.  “I just want it to be bigger every single year. Even if we beat it by one angel, that’s one more human being whose life is being changed by this.”

If you’d like to donate to the Broad Street Angels’ program or be matched this holiday season, please send an email here or write to me in the comments below.

What other ways do you like to make a difference during the holidays?

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