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For holidays, this army is a real salvation

December 22, 1997

by Kevin G. Gilbert / staff photographer

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For holidays, this army is a real salvation

By LAURA ERNDE

Staff Writer

When Lee and Katherine Brownlowe were laid off from their jobs two weeks ago, they wondered how they would afford Christmas gifts for their four children, ages 7 through 10.

Thanks to the Salvation Army and the generosity of the community, their Hagerstown home will not be without presents.

The agency helped more than 750 families, including 2,500 children, at its annual giveaway Monday in Hagerstown.

"I really appreciate it," said Katherine Brownlowe, 29.

She was working for a temporary agency and her husband was doing construction work when they were both laid off at about the same time, she said.

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The last time she got help from the Salvation Army at Christmas, her oldest child, 10-year-old Tera Gordon, was a toddler, she said.

The Salvation Army screens all the families. Very few are turned away, said organizer Maj. Georgia Henderson.

The families make an appointment to pick up their gifts.

The process works a lot like an assembly line, with about 50 volunteers working behind the scenes to stock toy shelves and replenish food bags.

First stop is the toy shop, where parents get to choose two gifts for each child. There are matchbox cars, dolls and games.

Younger children get teddy bears dressed in outfits made by volunteers.

The presents are stuffed in oversized trash bags.

It took two people to carry the gifts that Mary Gross, 36, picked out for her four girls and three boys.

"I'd like to be at her house on Christmas morning," said volunteer Beulah Boore.

After visiting the toy room, each family picked up a turkey and all the trimmings for their Christmas dinners.

Then, families got yet another large bag of goodies from their Christmas "angel," a member of the community who has "adopted" them and bought presents for them.

This year, the Salvation Army spent about $25,000 on toys, Henderson said.

"We buy these toys on faith that we'll get the income in the mail appeals and at the kettles," she said.

People in the community also donate toys, food and time.

The people who receive help come from a wide range of backgrounds, Henderson said.

"We're seeing a lot of working people who are really trying. By the time they pay the rent, food and heat, there's no Christmas," she said. "People come in and say, 'I never thought this would be me.'"

Henderson gets teary-eyed as she talks about the giveaway.

"It is a good feeling. I feel very blessed to be able to do this," she said.

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