The Power of Adopting an Angel

Photo by Wes Kerrick.

Photo by Wes Kerrick.

The Salvation Army’s annual Angel Tree might seem like just another charity soliciting your support for the holidays – until you look Jai’leal Crawford in the eyes.

Jai’leal is a lively boy with a contented smile, too young to understand the hard times his dad has been experiencing.

For now, Jai’leal and his father, Jamal Crawford, are living at The Salvation Army on Brook Street, where Jamal is working on the recovery of his mental health so he can go back to work. Jai’leal will be one of the more than 7,200 Louisville-area children receiving much-needed items this Christmas by way of the Angel Tree.

The campaign, which goes on each holiday season in every community with a Salvation Army, gives members of the community the chance to help out children like Jai’leal, from newborn to 12 years old. When you “adopt an angel” – or sign up to give a gift to a particular child – you get a list of items the child’s parent requested, such as certain sizes of clothes.

“It really does wonders,” says David Yarmuth, director of community relations at The Salvation Army Louisville Area Command. “It’s not just about some cool toys. Just having some new clothes, if you haven’t gotten new clothes in a long time, means everything.”

Angels are up for “adoption” inside the Walmart stores at Middletown, Westport Road, Hurstbourne and Fern Creek. They’re also at the Oxmoor Center, St. Matthews and Jefferson malls and the Kroger on Dixie Highway. In Clarksville, angels will become available the day after Thanksgiving at Green Tree Mall.

You can adopt an angel at any of those locations through December 11.

“The Angel Tree, it’s a blessing for someone like Jai’leal – and myself,” says Jamal, 39, who in the past six years lost his two other children. In 2011, his 3-year-old son was murdered. While still grieving that son, his 16-year-old son died in his sleep.

Then less than a year ago, Jamal’s mother – his confidante and source of strength – also passed away.

While Jamal recounts these things, Jai’leal plays cheerfully nearby. His dad too is keeping his head up despite the sorrow. It’s a tough go because the mental strain has made it nearly impossible to work just yet. And with what he’s been through, it’s hard to imagine leaving Jai’leal in someone else’s hands all day.

“I want to go out there and work,” he says, “but at the same time, I don’t want to – I feel like my job is to protect this baby.”

The Angel Tree, he says, will give Jai’leal the opportunity to experience the simple joy of getting a perfectly suited present on Christmas morning.

“He won’t know that The Salvation Army did that. He’s going to think that Santa Claus brought that down for him. And then once he gets older in life, you know, after the Santa thing, he’s going to be like, ‘Dad did that.’ And I’m going to hopefully – I’m optimistic that I’ll be able to tell him: ‘We went through this rough situation in this time in your life … and the people at The Salvation Army came through and lended us a hand. And they were the people who really assisted you with all that.’”

But Yarmuth is quick to deflect too much attention from his organization.

“We’re just the conduit to the people we’re trying to help,” he says. “It’s really the communities where The Salvation Armies serve that are the real force for good.”

If you’d like to help out in addition to providing a gift for a child, volunteers are needed to process bags as they come in and help with distribution of them to families. VT

To adopt an angel online, visit angeltreelouisville.org. For more information or to volunteer, visit salvationarmylouisville.org or call 502.671.4900. For information about the New Albany-area Salvation Army, call business administrator Roxanne Haley at 812.944.1018.