The holiday season is about many things. Some may say it is about celebrating family and togetherness. Others may be a Scrooge, and say it's a capitalist ploy to get us to buy more--have financial regrets later. We at Austin's Couch Potatoes believe in giving back, and not just during Christmastime, but what better opportunity to look for places that need help in the community. The Salvation Army's Angel Tree program is one such opportunity to help those in the greater community who just need a helping hand during the holidays. No parent should have to decide to choose between paying utilities or getting their child a gift during Christmas, and that's where the Angel Tree program comes in.
Austin's Couch Potatoes volunteers filling the gift bags with toys.
On December 15th, Austin's Couch Potatoes volunteered at the Salvation Army's warehouse for a day of pretending to be Santa. Audrey Vivar, the Corporations & Foundations Manager for Austin, Texas let us know how important it was that we were volunteering during this crucial time.
"So, what's happening actually, we are serving 9,000 children over a course of Monday through Friday. This is our distribution week. Wednesday is a super important day in our program because it's called 'Reset Day', which means we sort of clear out everything, audit everything, and then restock for Thursday and Friday. So, it's like a week's worth of work all in one day to be able to prepare for Thursday and Friday. Having you guys here is so important for us," Audrey said.
Looking around at the sheer amount of bags we had to sift through, I could not imagine the volunteers and employees handling it themselves without outside help. Somehow, The Salvation Army manages to pull it off every year, which is astounding. Our volunteers managed to clear (or at least it felt like) over 100 bins of toys, and yet we knew there was still more to go through. The process is long, and meticulous, but all worth it in the end when you think about the excitement of the children on Christmas Day.
Austin's Couch Potatoes volunteers start filling the bins with the gift bags to be taken back to the warehouse.
There was so much care and organization put into the process. A smaller group of volunteers worked in the front, choosing which toys to include from a list of the child's name, age, and need. These toys were not simple doodad you might find on the end of a grocery store aisle. These were skateboards, dolls with multiple outfits to play dress up, action figures with necessary accessories, play kitchens, bikes, and so much more. All of the toys and supplies were donated by people in the community, and it was heart-warming to witness. The larger group of volunteers in the warehouse had to find the tag on the gift bag and match it to the appropriate shelf. It was like a scavenger hunt. Once located, we had to make sure to cross off the child's name with a highlighter, and then head back for another bag.
As the largest provider of shelter in Central Texas, about 82% of the people that exit their shelter, move from homelessness to housing. They not only provide assistance during the holiday season but year-round.
If you are interested in volunteer opportunities, you can find them on the Salvation Army's website. There are still volunteers needed after Christmas to help with inventory for next year, so don't worry about missing out during the holidays.
Written by Emily Holleran