Christmas assistance program set to help record number of families

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Christmas is only two months away, and the tough economic times have many families seeking help to put presents under the tree. The Salvation Army of Jonesboro began collecting applications Tuesday for its Christmas assistance program, and the organization already expects to help out more families than last year.

"It's not that the economy is getting much worse. It's just not getting much better," Major Eugene Gesner said.

Gesner says he saw that firsthand, as the Salvation Army started signing up families for the holiday program.

"They get help with food for Christmas so that they'll be able to have a good holiday meal," Gesner said. "They usually get toys for their kids."

Before letting people in at nine Tuesday morning, a line formed from the front doors of the chapel down the sidewalk to the entrance of the thrift store.

"Most of the folks that are coming are folks that need a little extra help to have that 'Merry Christmas' that everybody else expects this time of year," Gesner said.

The Salvation Army saw about 150 families by mid-afternoon, but it's still early in the week. When the deadline rolls around Friday, the organization expects to collect applications from 500 to 600 families, a slight increase from last year.

"They've been getting by and getting by for the last couple years," Gesner said. "You can only get by for so long before things start catching up with you, and that's why we're expecting a few more folks this year."

Gesner also says he expects the program to benefit close to 2,000 children in Craighead, Greene, Poinsett and Mississippi counties. Families with kids can fill out a wish list, then residents can check out what items children would like on an Angel Tree.

Gesner is also sending out a call for help to the most fortunate in the community. Volunteers are needed to ring bells, collect donations and distribute toys and other goods to families in need.

"If you come and volunteer, you get to be part of the army behind the Salvation Army," Gesner said.

The Salvation Army will accept applications for the Christmas assistance program until Friday, Oct. 28. Residents can visit 125 Fisher Street in Jonesboro to apply. Adults must show a photo identification, provide proof of children and also bring proof of all income and expenses.

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