The Salvation Army's 2012 Angel Tree program is heading into its final days, and officials say the organization has heard from more families who are employed, but struggling to get hours.
Many families are having a tough time paying rent and keeping up with utility bills, which means more families need help from Angel Tree, officials say.
The program, which started on Nov. 16, winds up Sunday, when all Christmas gifts being donated for the Angel Tree should be turned in, said Major Debra Ashcraft, area coordinator for the Salvation Army.
According to Ashcraft, the Lexington Salvation Army assisted more than 43,220 needy people in 2010. Last year, that number climbed to more than 48,700, she said.
Numbers for 2012 aren't available yet. But Ashcraft said the Salvation Army has had to buy more food this year because non-perishable food donations weren't sufficient to accommodate the numbers of people asking for help.
Many of those seeking help say they've lost their jobs, Ashcraft said. "But another thing we're hearing more of this year from families in the Angel Tree is reports of reductions in work hours," she said. "I think that tells a different story that I'm not sure we know about as a country.
"These are folks who are still employed, so they don't show up on the unemployment lists. But they've had their work hours cut back. For some that makes it really difficult to keep the utilities going, pay the rent, put food on the table."
It also can make the holidays a difficult time which translates into more families seeking help from the Angel Tree program so their children can have presents to open on Christmas morning.
The Angel Tree project, which provides gifts for disadvantaged children, began about 1979. It was started by Salvation Army workers in Lynchburg, Va., and gradually spread to other cities, according to a Salvation Army website.
People wishing to participate can pick up Angel Tree cards at various display locations, each card carrying the name, age and Christmas wish list of a disadvantaged child. Participants can buy as many gifts as they wish for that child, then deliver the unwrapped gifts to the Salvation Army. Parents can then pick up the gifts and give them to their children.
Lexington's Angel Tree program, which is celebrating its 25th year, helped more than 6,700 children in the Lexington area in 2011, according to Ashcraft.
"Requests to the program have been running high and we're anticipating that we'll be serving more than 6,000 children again this year," said Ashcraft.
Ashcraft said people still have time to pick up Angel Tree cards at various locations around the area and buy gifts for disadvantaged children.
Requests to the Salvation Army for all types of assistance have been rising in the Lexington area for the past few years, she said, primarily because of the national recession and the slow pace of economic recovery.
"We're still seeing increasing requests for basic and emergency needs, which would include requests for food, clothing and utility assistance," Ashcraft said. "At our shelter, we're still operating beyond capacity. The number of homeless women and families coming in just continues to increase."