Some might be surprised to find out the Salvation Army’s well-known Angel Tree program originated in Lynchburg about 40 years ago as a result of a partnership between the Salvation Army and River Ridge mall.
The tradition continues to this day in the city and nationwide, providing Christmas gifts for hundreds of thousands of children around the country each year. A new display is currently set up at the River Ridge mall, in front of Belk, which includes four Christmas trees with tags for requested gifts and a 7-foot angel.
Once shoppers pick up a tag, they can purchase an unwrapped gift for the child and return it to the mall with the Angel Tree ID card attached by Dec. 7.
Katie Farris, retail marketing manager for the mall, said River Ridge puts up an Angel Tree display every year.
“It’s a great way to give back and to spread holiday joy within the community to our children,” she said.
Tammy Shank, Director of Development at the Salvation Army of Lynchburg, said the Angel Tree Program provides the organization an opportunity to partner with the community, which has consistently supported the program and offered hope to those struggling.
“The Salvation Army of Greater Lynchburg is so thankful for River Ridge mall and the greater Lynchburg community for providing us the means to help those who need us the most during the holiday season,” she said.
This year, the Angel Tree program has seen an increase in people applying for help and about twice as many Angels on the mall’s trees because many groups, businesses and churches can’t take them due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The mall also partners with the Salvation Army of Lynchburg in its Red Kettle Campaign, which is set up at each entrance at River Ridge until Christmas Eve. Lynchburg’s Salvation Army has been running the Red Kettle campaign for more than 60 years and has locations around the city besides the mall.
Money raised by the campaign covers the cost of running the Salvation Army’s Center of Hope shelter at 2215 Park Avenue. It also helps pay utility and housekeeping bills and is used to assist those on the verge of homelessness.
“We partner with them every year and they’re out there ringing the bells during mall hours, so people can drop their spare change in the buckets and every penny really does add up,” Farris said.
Farris said it’s important to the mall that when it partners with a nonprofit, the money stays in the local Lynchburg community.
“We love our community so much. They support us, and it’s important for us to support them, especially during the holiday season every year, but especially this year. Things have been really tough because of the pandemic,” Farris said.
She said the safety of shoppers is the mall’s greatest priority this holiday season and it is following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as local and state guidelines.
The mall typically holds more events during Christmas but Farris said it has had to scale back this year. Kids can still visit Santa Claus, but families will need to go to the River Ridge website and make reservations.
“The reason for that is adhere to social distancing and to give families plenty of time between one another and to sanitize between each family,” she said. “We are having guests social distance from Santa Claus as well and asking guests to follow the Virginia state guidelines of the mask ordinance. Everyone’s safety is at the top of mind.”
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