Audrey Easterling has a difficult job. As a case manager at Salvation Army in Brunswick, she is faced with a steady stream of desperate people who find themselves in dire straights.
Often times, a tough situation slips into hopelessness when the holidays arrive. Parents struggling to make ends meet simply don’t have the funds to give their children a festive Christmas. It is a heartbreaking reality but one that is very real.
“Low income families have a hard time, and they’re just not able to get gifts for their children. They’re having a hard enough time making ends meet — paying bills and keeping a roof over their children’s heads,” Easterling said.
That’s where the Christian-based nonprofit steps in to help. The organization offers two programs during the Christmas season to lend a helping hand to those in need — the Angel Tree and the Red Kettle Campaign.
Easterling is in charge of the former.
“We come in to make sure children have a good Christmas. We put out our main Angel Tree up at the mall. The angels are adopted and the gifts are returned by Dec. 14 to either the mall or the fairgrounds so we can get them ready for distribution,” she said.
This year, the Angel Tree will appear Nov. 22 in the center of Glynn Place Mall. There will also be satellite trees at area businesses — Bealls, Advance Rehabilitation in Brunswick and on St. Simons Island, as well as both Chik-Fil-A locations. Easterling is also accepting requests for businesses who want to host Angel Trees.
“They just have to call me to get some angels,” she said.
The children on the tree are nameless but their ages, clothing sizes and wish list are displayed on tags. Many of the items requested are very simple — shirts, pants and even socks. They also ask for basic toys, and once in a while, something big like a bicycle.
“The parents ask for the clothing like coats, shirts and pants ... because obviously, they want clothing for their children. We have a lot of babies too that need clothing, diapers and wipes,” Easterling said. “For the older children, they ask for soccer balls or basketballs.”
While shopping for a specific child is a personalized form of giving, the Salvation Army also welcomes general donations of new toys as well. Easterling always gets calls later in the season for emergency cases, and those gifts help fill that need.
“We take care of them all,” she said.
A couple of years ago, Easterling was faced with such an instance. Several angels were accidentally deleted from the Salvation Army’s system, forcing them to issue an urgent call to the community for extra gifts.
Easterling was floored by the response. In a matter of hours, the Salvation Army’s office on Reynolds St. was overflowing with presents.
“I was just in awe. The community went overboard ... we were overflowing with gifts. They really came through,” she said.
That rings true for the organization’s other project — the annual Red Kettle Campaign, which officially launched Friday. Every year, bell ringers with kettles are stationed outside of businesses around the isles, taking donations from those entering or exiting the locations. They will be out in full force after Thanksgiving.
Lt. Alphonso Hughes, head of the local Salvation Army branch, said that they are only able to help needy families thanks to the generosity of the local community. The Salvation Army is currently looking for volunteers to serve as bell ringers, kettle drivers and Christmas helpers.
“Through our Christmas assistance we live out our mission of meeting human needs in Jesus without discrimination. We are thankful our and your neighbors make that a reality for us,” Hughes said.
Easterling agrees and feels that these programs also offer a way for the faithful to celebrate the true meaning of the Christmas season.
“The main thing that God wants is for us to love each other and be there for each other. I will say this about Glynn County — any time we have a need or put out a call, our community responds. They look out for us and make sure we have what we need,” she said. “They give and have hearts for giving, which means they have God in their hearts.”
Glynn County has dozens of charity organizations and worthy causes. The list is so extensive that we cannot cover it all here. But there’s a group that benefits everyone’s calling — the hungry, the sick, the abused and even the animals. Here are a few other ways to give during the holidays:
• Golden Isles Christian Church will host a food drive from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at the Winn-Dixie on U.S. Hwy. 341 in Brunswick. All donations will be offered to Sparrow’s Nest in Brunswick. For more information or to contribute, call 912-996-2230.
• The Clouds Yoga Studio will take donations of nonperishable food from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 23 outside of the Winn-Dixie on St. Simons Island. Donations will benefit Sparrow’s Nest in Brunswick.
• America’s Second Harvest in Brunswick is also always accepting food and monetary donations. For more information, visit www.helpendhunger.org or call 912-261-7979.
• Sparrow’s Nest Food Pantry in Brunswick accepts direct donations from 9 a.m. to noon Monday to Thursday at 2911 Altama Ave., Brunswick.
Clothing, personal care item donations
• Grace House, a sober living home for women in Brunswick, accepts monetary donations or gift bags, clothing items (like scarves, socks), gift certificates for a hair cut, pedicure, manicures, movie pass or beauty products. For more information, visit gracehousebrunswick.org or contact Lowe at 258-6137.
• The Well, a day shelter for the homeless, accepts donations of personal care items and toiletries. It is managed by FaithWorks. For more information, visit faithworksministry.org.
• The Big Flea Resale Store, operated by the Humane Society of South Coastal Georgia, accepts donations of furniture and home decor pieces at 129 Shoppers Way, Brunswick. They are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. It is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. Proceeds benefit the humane society.
• No Kill Glynn County and Glynn County Animal Control accept donations of money as well as towels, blankets and food for pets. For more information about No Kill Glynn County, visit www.nokillglynncounty.org. For animal control, call 912-544-7500.
• House of Hope, a nonprofit that aids the victims of human trafficking, accepts monetary donations online at www.houseofhoperefugeoflove.com or at House of Hope, PO Box 21283, St. Simons Island, GA 31522.