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Volunteer elves help wrap gifts from incarcerated parents

Dec. 4, 2012

The holidays bring with them many tasks, from shopping for gifts to baking cookies and trimming the tree. My favorite activity by far is wrapping presents.

I believe that love for crisp creases, curled ribbons and bright bows and paper got passed down from my grandfather. His Milwaukee home became Santa's workshop each December - off limits to children. But a quick glimpse down the staircase when grandma retrieved the laundry showed piles of gift wrap and boxes.

Grandpa had at least one gift for every member of the family and any friends who were attending holiday gatherings and he had plenty of donations for people in need. Each was wrapped with love and plenty of Scotch tape. No one was left out on Christmas.

I had the opportunity along with Wauwatosa Now Editor Jennifer Pfaff to carry on that tradition in mid-November by participating in the Salvation Army of Milwaukee County's annual Prison Toy Program at the organization's Divisional Headquarters, 11315 W. Watertown Plank Road.

The facility's massive basement is filled with boxes of toys - from Barbie dolls to board games and remote control cars - donated by area retailers. We volunteer elves took seats at wrapping stations and went to work under Christmas lights hanging from the ceiling.

Jennifer and I were handed a box containing more than 100 charm bracelets and a stack of gift wrap. When those were complete, we assisted in making sure all of the boxes were correctly marked and stocked. Then we helped finish wrapping some purses that would be gifts for tween and teen girls.

We participated in the afternoon session, but the effort was much bigger than the two of us. In addition to Salvation Army staff, about 100 volunteers, from schoolchildren to church groups, wrapped more than 4,500 gifts that day.

New groups of volunteers came in the following two days to box the toys for shipping to recipients around the state.

Since 1954, The Salvation Army has received applications from incarcerated parents requesting Christmas presents for their children. The gifts arrive to the children with no Salvation Army identification with the goal of connecting the incarcerated parents and their kids during the holidays.

While the volunteer needs for the prison toy program are complete, the Salvation Army has plenty of other opportunities this holiday season.

Most people recognize the red kettles watched over by bell-ringers, all of whom are volunteers. A minimum commitment of two hours and a cheerful demeanor are required. In Wauwatosa, kettles are set up on State Street at Walgreen's, Metcalfe's Market and Pick 'n Save, as well as at Macy's at Mayfair.

The local division has a $3 million campaign goal to fund more than 80 programs and services in 2013 that will help the homeless, seniors, veterans and children, including the Toy Shop that provides holiday gifts to more than 20,000 kids in need and the Christmas Family Feast.

To get involved, visit SAMilwaukee.org or call (414) 302-4300.

Stefanie Scott wants to try her hand volunteering with your organization or taking part in other Wauwatosa activities. Invite her along by sending an email to reporterstef@gmail.com.

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