Empty Stocking, Angel Tree come throughAnnual fund drive remains $66 K short of goal

The holidays are in full swing and that included the Odessa Salvation Army’s annual Angel Tree and Empty Stocking distribution Thursday morning at its location on 810 E. 11th St.
“This is where all the toy drives that have come together for the year where the partnership with the Odessa American and the Empty Stocking and United Super Markets come together for us to put these toys together for these kids,” Odessa Salvation Army co-captain Juan Gomez said.
The program helps provide families in need of Christmas presents for their children and with a food box. The Empty Stocking Fund ends today and the goal of $100,000 is short about $66,000.
“Each of these toys are specific to the families that sent in a request,” Gomez said. “It really is an opportunity for us to share that Christmas opportunity with these families.”
Like with everything else that’s been going in 2020, this year’s Angel Tree distribution was set up a little different due to the safety precautions to avoid COVID.
In the past, the Angel Tree distribution would take place inside the Odessa Salvation Army’s gym where they would distribute items.
This year, to comply with social distancing, the distribution was done in a drive-by format where volunteers at the Salvation Army loaded items into the cars of families.
Gomez said about 300 families had signed up and came through on Thursday and boxes of food were also provided as well.
“Today, what we have is we have some food boxes that are going out to the families,” Gomez said. “We have over 250 food boxes for families that will be going out.”
A partnership with the West Texas Food Bank helped provide the 250 boxes of food while the Salvation Army provided another 100.
While this year’s distribution is different from in the past, Gomez says the Odessa Salvation Army is still hopeful of getting its Christmas message across like in past Decembers.
“We’re telling them what the real reason for the season is,” Gomez said. “It’s not about the gifts, it’s about remembering and being with family and fellowship during Christmas time.”
This year has been challenging for many families across the country including here in the Permian Basin with the pandemic affecting nearly all aspects in life including the economy.
Gomez says those struggles have been felt at the Odessa Salvation Army which includes the number of volunteers.
“It’s been a little difficult,” Gomez said. “Over the past three-and-a-half weeks, it’s become the push of us getting the stuff in the bags and the toys and organizing them the way they came in. We haven’t had many volunteers who have been able to come in and help out. It was my wife, our staff and our children who were able to put that together. Not having those volunteers was a struggle.”
Another item that’s been a factor has been finances.
“Our Empty Stocking is not where it was last year,” Gomez said. “Our Red Kettle campaign is about $400 down this year from last year. … There are some worries in the back of my mind. I worry with how things will look especially as we went out and bought things for (Thursday).”
However, Gomez knows that their main focus is still on the children and families.
“Once we’re done with that, then we’ll worry about how to recover from the funds that haven’t come in yet,” Gomez said.
According to Gomez, about 15 volunteers were able to help out with the distribution on Thursday.
In the past, they’ve had about 35-40 volunteers.
“The biggest thing is we’re having to do something that is completely mobile and dependent on everyone coming and going at the right time and with less volunteers,” Gomez said of the challenges of Thursday’s distribution.
One of the volunteers there was Kristie Corralez.
“We’re just here for the children and the families who of course need help this season with everything that’s been going on with the virus and the economy,” Corralez said. “For several years, we’ve adopted an angel off the tree. Throughout Odessa, when we find a tree, we’ll pick an angel. We brought in our donation for our angel and asked if they were taking any volunteers because we wanted to help.”
Odessa Salvation Army co-captain Clara Gomez said there were volunteers from around the area including some from other businesses.
“Haliburton came out to help us today and we have some regular volunteers,” Gomez said. “We’re doing about 50 families every 30 minutes. So far, things have been good. We’re hoping things can go as smooth as possible.”