Along with the familiar Red Kettles, the Angel Tree program is one of The Salvation Army's highest profile Christmas efforts.

Angel Tree was created by The Salvation Army in 1979 by Majors Charles and Shirley White when they worked with a Virginia shopping mall to provide clothing and toys for children at Christmas time.

The program got its name because the Whites identified the wishes of local children by writing their gift needs on Hallmark greeting cards featuring pictures of angels and placing them on a Christmas tree at the mall. Thanks to the Whites, who were assigned by The Army to the Lynchburg area at the time, more than 700 children had a brighter Christmas that first year.

Three years later, when the Whites were transferred to Nashville, Tenn., Angel Tree was launched in Music City during the 1982 Christmas season. WMS radio, which airs the Grand Ol' Opry, came on board that year as the first Angel Tree co-sponsor in the United States.

Because of the on-air promotion on WSM in Nashville, as well as national publicity on CNN and the Larry King Show, news of Angel Tree spread.

The Salvation Army has provided toys to those in need through a Christmas Toy Shop since 1921 in Kosciusko County. The Warsaw Rotary Club has collected toys each year since 1927. The Marine Corps Reserve "Toys For Tots" has provided support to the Army's program for many years.

The Angel Tree came to Kosciusko County in 1989 when Capt. and Mrs. Ken Locke worked with The Salvation Army Women's Auxiliary to provide gifts to children whose parent was incarcerated in the Kosciusko County Jail during the holiday season. More than 40 inmates filled out applications that first year and gifts were given to more than 80 children. Auxiliary members wrapped and mailed the gifts that year.

In 1999, 10 years after Angel Tree was implemented to help children of inmates, Captains Mike and Audrey Schneider decided to change the entire Outreach program to Angel Tree. Tags were placed in the community with the names, ages, clothing sizes and gift ideas of children age 12 and younger so people could shop for them and bring the items back to a tree. Parents were given appointments at The Salvation Army before Christmas to pick up the gifts for their children and receive assistance for food as well. Present Angel Tree sponsors include Kmart, DePuy, Biomet and Medtronic Sofamor-Danek. Zimmer employees and the First United Methodist Church have supported trees in the past.

Through a cooperative effort with Combined Community Services, families may sign up for either Adopt-A-Family at the CCS office or Angel Tree with The Salvation Army. Names are checked so a family can sign up for only one program to prevent duplication and to stretch resources as far as possible between these two United Way agencies.

This year Salvation Army decided to discontinue its program at the Kosciusko County Jail to eliminate duplication with the Kosciusko County Jail Ministry, which has provided gifts to children of inmates since the mid-1990s. The Salvation Army plans to develop services at another time of the year as a part of Angel Tree, according to Ken Locke, community ministries director.

The Salvation Army implemented a new program in 2004 called "Teen Angel" that will provide gift cards to teens (13- to 17-years-old) of families in need through a $4,000 grant given by the Salvation Army Women's Auxiliary.

Nationally, the Salvation Army celebrates 25 years of sharing gifts with others during Christmas through the Angel Tree program.

Locally, The Salvation Army celebrates a 15-year Angel Tree program that has now evolved, providing more than 450 children with new clothing and toys for the holidays. Names are still being accepted for the 2004 Christmas holiday season.

For more information on Angel Tree, call 574-267-5361 or e-mail Ken Locke at Ken_Locke@usc.salvationarmy.com