Salvation Army and Newman University continue a tradition together

salvation army angel tree

For nearly 30 years, the Newman community has partnered with the Salvation Army in Wichita, Kansas, to purchase gifts for the Salvation Army Angel Tree program and volunteer at the annual distribution day.

More than 3,500 families experience the Christmas spirit because of the program and almost 10,000 children are provided toys.

Rosemary Niedens, associate vice president for academic affairs at Newman, works with the Salvation Army to coordinate the effort at the university.

"The number of Angel Tree cards that we get vary from year to year," said Niedens. "This year we received about 100 cards."

Niedens added that even though the deadline to return gifts is fast approaching, there are still just under 25 cards available for the taking.

"For most partners, the deadline for gift drop off is Friday, Dec. 8 — but for the Newman community, those who've taken cards from our tree, the deadline is 10 a.m. Monday, Dec. 11."

Becoming a donor isn't the only way the Newman community helps out. Volunteers also sign up to assist during distribution days, which is Thursday, Dec. 14 and 15.

Niedens said volunteers can still sign up and "there is plenty of work to be done. We need runners, escorts, turkey distributors and more."

Sisters Vicki Bergkamp and Tarcisia Roths

Sisters Vicki Bergkamp and Tarcisia Roths stand in front of bundled family gift bags during the 2016 distribution.

Newman volunteers are also encouraged to wear their Newman gear on the day of distribution.

Newman students also jump at the chance to get involved in other ways. Senior and ASC Scholar Marisol Padilla decided to use this opportunity as her capstone project. She created translation sheets with commonly used questions and phrases that come up on distribution day.

"We can’t get enough translators," said Niedens, "and there are so many community members who only speak Spanish or Vietnamese. Now for years to come, if they don’t have (transators) there, (the Salvation Army) can still serve someone."

Padilla said her original idea was to organize a group of student volunteers for the big day, but it turned out that the day was scheduled during finals week.

"Since it’s in finals week, I wasn’t able to do that," said Padilla. "So Rosemary suggested I make the pamphlet. I talked to Jill at the Salvation Army, and she gave me a list of questions and phrases that she wanted me to translate. I translated them into Spanish and my friend Vivian Huong translated them into Vietnamese."

Jamel Gunther, another Newman student, encouraged people at his church and his friends at Newman to knit scarves and hats to be given as stocking stuffers.

Niedens said the Salvation Army starts taking applications in mid-October and the Angel Tree cards are put out into the community shortly before Thanksgiving.

"On the distribution day," she explained, "they (the families) all go to the designated distribution center, they come in and are given a grocery voucher for Christmas dinner from Dillons and a turkey, and then an escort takes them through the rest of the process.

"Every year, this is where — for me — Christmas starts," Niedens continued. "In higher education, we’re so busy getting finals prepared, grades entered – this is right at the end of that. I really start feeling the Christmas spirit. And the day helps with that feeling. The volunteers are all so happy to be there and to help."

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