10 Questions With Major David Yardley

Posted By on December 5, 2019
Major David Yardley

The Salvation Army Metro Phoenix program coordinator

1. When and how did the Christmas Angel program start?

One of the major driving forces behind the program’s inception was Marlene Koltz-Collins. She is currently on the national and local Salvation Army advisory boards. In 1986, she was a volunteer member of the Army’s local advisory board, but her full-time job was as community relations director with KTVK Channel 3. The Army’s marketing committee had been developing a concept of getting toy donations at a mall. Marlene thought they could turn it into something big, so one day, she presented the station manager with an idea for “Secret Santa” at a mall, and he loved it. They introduced the concept to Christown Mall, the Army readied a system to identify children to receive the gifts, and they were off and running for that holiday season. The name of the program was changed to Christmas Angel a year or two later.

2. How many children received gifts that first year?

Approximately 3,200 children.

3. How many Angels are there this year and where are the tags on display?

The Salvation Army Christmas Angel program annually helps around 8,800 families with gifts for more than 50,000 Arizona children in need. There are 13 participating malls: 11 in the Valley, one in Prescott and one in Flagstaff.

4. What has changed since the program started?

Besides the increased numbers, probably the most significant change is how specific we have pinpointed the wish lists of the kids. Tags used to read “Male” or “Female” with an age and some generic gift suggestions. Now, each tag has the first name of a real child, that child’s age, and a wish list of three or four gifts. This is one of the few programs of its kind where the suggested gifts on a child’s Angel tag are purchased for that specific child. If a tag reads, “Timmy,” then the gifts are going to Timmy. That helps generous donors connect with the program even more. We often see parents at the Christmas Angel trees with their kids looking for tags of a child who has the same name or is the same age.

5. Has anything new been added this year?

We have added an online component over the last couple of years. If you visit SalvationArmyPhoenix.org and click on the Christmas Angel logo, you can find information about making a straight monetary donation or purchasing a gift package for a child in need.

6. How many volunteers and volunteer hours make this all possible?

Wow, that’s difficult to quantify. I think it’s safe to say hundreds of volunteers putting in hundreds upon hundreds of combined hours.

7. How and when are the gifts delivered?

Gifts returned to an Angel tree are delivered to our warehouse. All gifts going to children in the same family are bagged up in the same bag. When families register in advance of the program’s start, they are designated a date to pick up the gifts, and we have cars coming to our warehouse for several days. It’s like being at Santa’s workshop. The great thing about that part of the system is that the parents or guardians are the ones who wrap the presents and put them under the tree. So for the children, the gifts are coming from their parents or guardians. That’s the way we like it.

8. What’s the biggest challenge each year?

Every year, there are tags that don’t get picked from a tree or tags that don’t get returned because someone has simply forgotten or life has gotten hectic. But we have a fail-safe for that. It’s called “Forgotten Angel.” Big-hearted corporations and organizations conduct internal toy drives and they and the general public bring gifts to an all-day Forgotten Angel drive at Chandler Fashion Center. The online component I mentioned is also a part of the “Forgotten Angel” effort. Those donated toys are separated into categories at our warehouse, where they are matched to tags that weren’t picked or returned.

9. Have you witnessed a moment that lets you know you’re creating holiday magic for these families in need?

We witness them all the time. Often, it’s tears of joy when a parent picks up the gifts at the warehouse and thanks you for what The Salvation Army does. Other times, someone comes to choose tags at an Angel tree and tells us about how they were helped by The Salvation Army when they were younger and they are now giving back. Those moments are priceless.

10. Is there anything that we didn’t ask that you’d like to share?

We are incredibly grateful to Arizona’s Family: 3TV and CBS5 for partnering in Christmas Angel with The Salvation Army for what is now the 34th straight year. We are also very appreciative of the 13 participating malls and all of the wonderful people in our community who help us brighten the holidays of families and kids in need. The Salvation Army is your generosity put into action, and Christmas Angel is the epitome of that.

To learn more, go to salvationarmyphoenix.org/christmas-angel.

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