ROANOKE, Va. – Although Christmas is still months away, the Salvation Army is already preparing for this year's Angel Tree Program and the changes in requirements for families to participate.
This marks the first year for a required money management course which parents must take if they want to sign their kids up for the program. The two-hour course is on the second Saturday of every month.
It's a budgeting course the Salvation Army hopes will have a major effect on these families lives, giving them the tools they need to understand where their money is going and find new ways to save.
Deborah Cobourn leads the course and says it's different than many other money management classes. She says many of the Angel Tree families don't get paid every other week or even twice a month - instead, taking jobs and making money when its available. She says these are the families this program is catering to, teaching them how to work with the money they have.
"This is not to punish people or to say, 'You can't participate in the Angel Tree,'" says Cobourn. "It's really to help people. Sometimes people that are in difficult situations that can't purchase presents for their kids need help budgeting. They need help with finding the resources."
She says the goal is to get these families focused on their money habits, so they're able to manage their finances on their own and no longer need the support of the Salvation Army.
That's why families are now eligible for the Angel Tree program for just three years. It's part of the ongoing balance of giving these families the support they need, while also teaching them how to better manage their finances.
For many of the families that participate, it's not just Christmas that they need a little extra help making ends meet, it's often year-round. One of the biggest issues that Cobourn sees is that people are concerned about budgeting and scared to even look at their finances because they're worried they're so bad.
Instead of focusing on how much money the families are making and how to spend it, they're talking about ways to twist their monthly spending into a plan that can help and how to avoid spending traps.
"A lot of times people who don't have a lot of money get sucked into places that are going to take advantage of them, like predatory lenders," she says. "So we talk about that. We talk about ways they can really tighten up their budget and use their money to survive. This class is really about keeping a roof over your head, keeping food in your refrigerator and having access to medical needs so that you can work."
Other lessons include learning and knowing the difference between survival needs - like rent, utilities and food; variable needs - like cable and new clothes; and the extra stuff many families could do without - like manicures, hair appointments, cigarettes and entertainment.
In order to qualify for this year's Angel Tree program, parents must sign up to attend one of the two-hour classes.
Classes will be at 9:45 a.m. at the Salvation Army Worship and Community Center on April 14, May 12, June 9, July 14, August 11 and September 8. Childcare is included if needed, but those who will require childcare are asked to pre-register.