‘Tis the Season for Angels at A M King: An Inspiring Exchange with Salvation Army Officer
For the first time in eight years, I won’t be on the front lines of our company’s annual Angel Tree drive for the Salvation Army of Greater Charlotte and the Salvation Army of Greenville, SC. I won’t be able to push my buggy through Target and do my part to select just the right gifts for the nearly 150 children that A M King now adopts as part of this program. I definitely won’t be hauling bicycles or picking up heavy bags of clothes and toys. It will be difficult this year to let go of the project for an organization that has been close to my heart since I struggled early in life myself as a single mother trying to make ends meet. But it was recently pointed out to me by Major Todd Hawks, the Salvation Army’s General Secretary for North and South Carolina, that because I’ve helped build a beautiful foundation for giving at our company during the past several years, our team will be able to carry on while I am recovering from surgery.
I met him at the Salvation Army’s new Christmas Center at the old Kohl’s location on N. Tryon St., directly across from the UNC Charlotte campus and the light rail. On the day that I was there in early November, the 85,000 sf building was just beginning to fill up and you could feel the hope of the 8,000 families who have already registered for aid.
Our corporate family will be giving back to at least some of these families and this year they won’t have to worry about whether their children will receive Christmas gifts. It’s really all hands on deck here because A M King generously gives each employee funds to purchase gifts for one angel, as well as providing for the needs and wishes of 100 more angels. As a team, we experience joy when we offer others an opportunity to experience it as well. I told Major Hawks that we are honored to be part of the Salvation Army’s tribe of volunteers and he said, “Thank you. Because of your generosity and culture of giving, children and their parents will experience God’s love this Christmas. Please be assured your gifts are going to children in the most need in the community. We could not do this without you.” Here are some more excerpts from our conversation:
Donna: Why is the Angel Tree program so special and unique?
Major Hawks: The Salvation Army Angel Tree program gives community members a chance to minister to families in need at Christmas. The Salvation Army is a Christian church and preaching the gospel is fundamental in its mission. Providing toys for children, however, does more than provide a joyful Christmas morning. The Angel Tree provides for children so parents and caregivers can focus their limited resources on the basic needs of the family: food, shelter, and utilities.
Donna: Where did the program originate?
Major Hawks: The Salvation Army Angel Tree program was started in Lynchburg, Virginia in 1979 by Salvation Army Majors Charles and Shirley White, working in partnership with a local mall to provide clothing and toys for children at Christmas. The program got its name because the Whites identified the wishes of local children by writing their gift needs on Hallmark greeting cards that featured pictures of angels. They placed the cards on a Christmas tree at the mall to allow shoppers to select children to help. Thanks to the Whites, who were assigned by The Army to the Lynchburg area at the time, more than 700 children had a brighter Christmas that first year. Forty years later, Angel Trees can be found all over the country, helping hundreds of thousands of children every year.
Donna: How did your education and life experiences prepare you for a career with the Salvation Army?
Major Hawks: I remember very clearly growing up with my parents and two brothers in Hagerstown, MD in the 60s. When my dad’s contract as a sheet metal worker wasn’t renewed, our family struggled and unemployment in those days wasn’t enough. My mom relied on The Salvation Army for clothes and food, and two Christmases in a row I remember receiving candy, a blue sweatshirt, an apple, and gloves. I know this experience at a young age shaped my desire to help other people and bring people to know the love of God.
Donna: I can relate to that. Where are your responsibilities as general secretary of The Salvation Army of North and South Carolina?
Major Hawks: As the General Secretary, I serve as the COO for the Salvation Army for North and South Carolina. My responsibilities include the oversight of Community Relations and Development, Property, IT Services, Legal, Estates, Trusts, and Emergency Disaster Services departments. Each Salvation Army command manages a variety of programs that meet the individual needs of that community and works with volunteers, donors, and community partners to help those who are struggling. The Salvation Army divisional headquarters provides administrative support to the commands. (There are 59 commands in North and South Carolina)
Donna: What was your very first experience with the Angel Tree program? How has that evolved?
Major Hawks: My first experience with the Angel Tree program was at a small Salvation Army command in Louisiana. The program is pretty much the same now as it was then, but over time we have become more efficient.
Donna: What is the most challenging aspect of managing the Angel Tree program?
Major Hawks: Last year, an estimated 100,000 children in North and South Carolina experienced joy on Christmas morning through The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program. The Salvation Army begins planning for Christmas in July and manages every aspect of the program from Angel Tree sign-up for families to the distribution of gifts. Thanks to community support and many volunteers, we can serve families in the most need every Christmas. The Salvation Army handles the logistics and organization—which can be challenging–but the majority of the work is carried out by volunteers and through the generosity of people in the community.
Donna: Where do you think the Salvation Army excels in administering this program?
Major Hawks: When a child is placed on the Angel Tree, we make a promise to the family that their child will receive Christmas gifts. We have faith the community will respond and we know God is blessing our program. We strive to do our work in the most effective, economical manner, ensuring we are good stewards of the time and gifts given to us. What sets us apart from other organizations is our “why” – to bring people to know the love of Jesus Christ.
Donna: Has giving increased in recent years?
Major Hawks: One of the miracles of the Angel Tree program is that God always provides through generous people, corporations, and organizations. Take A M King, for example. You were already participating generously in the Angel Tree program and heard there was an urgent need to help provide gifts for additional children who were not adopted on the Angel Tree, springing into action, organizing, purchasing, and delivering gifts. Your generosity and compassion for others has made such a difference in so many lives!
Donna: That warms my heart! What message would you send to those families or individuals in need this holiday season?
Major Hawks: God loves you. Families go through hard times and we are here to help. Sometimes meeting physical needs isn’t enough. If you need prayers or a listening ear, please know that we are here.
Donna: What message would you send to people who want to get involved but aren’t sure where to start?
Major Hawks: I’ve been an officer in The Salvation Army for 42 years and I have seen how important it is for our generation to cultivate giving in our children and their children. Just take the first step. To adopt an Angel, find an Angel Tree in your community at participating shopping malls or at your place of business. Purchase the items on the child’s personal wish list and return gifts by Dec. 11. A Virtual Angel Tree is accessible online and you can also visit your local Subway® restaurant to pick up an Angel or purchase new unwrapped toys and return to the nearest drop-off location. See our website for more information. Who knows? You may even decide to launch an Angel Tree program at your company.
Donna: I hope that companies WILL be inspired to begin a program benefiting the Salvation Army Angels. Thank you for your time Major Hawks and Merry Christmas!
Major Todd Hawks was commissioned as an officer in The Salvation Army in 1978 and has since served as Corps Officer in several southern communities in North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Additional divisional and national leadership appointments have enabled him to gain experience including personnel, public relations, fundraising, development and disaster services management. Currently, Major Hawks serves as the General Secretary for The Salvation Army’s North and South Carolina Division headquartered in Charlotte. Major Hawks is married to Major Bethany Hawks and they have two sons, Caedon Aaron and Camden Andrew, and one daughter, Carsyn Asher.