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No Social Security Number, No Toys
Toys for Tots … with Green Cards
by JAYNE LYN STAHL

Some children in Nashville this Christmas awoke to a barren Christmas tree because their parents weren’t able to provide Santa with social security numbers.

What does it say about a country when two of its largest holiday gift givers, the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program, and the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots, will decline applicants who are unable to demonstrate proof of citizenship, and income, according to an article in The Tennessean.

The Angel Tree program, based in Nashville, will have distributed Christmas presents to nearly 15,000 children and seniors throughout Tennessee in response to nearly 5,000 applications, and this program that matches gifts to families in need, is not shy about its requirement to produce a social security card.

Maj. Rob Vincent, a spokesperson for the Salvation Army, insists that "it’s not a matter of whether they’re legal or illegal," but whether parents requesting help with their Christmas gifts can prove they’re members of the community. The Salvation Army, he argues, wants to be sure to address "local need." But what kind of community would deny an indigent parent’s request for just enough to cover the cost of a baby doll for her three year old daughter solely because the child’s grandmother can’t produce a social security card?

And, the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots also has the same policy of requiring official evidence of citizenship, and proof of income eligibility before granting parents request.

There are some in high powered Washington think tanks who are cynical enough to suggest that parents may be "gaming" the system by applying to several charities for toys. They are the same folks who called for welfare reform while simultaneously lining the pockets of AIG. Well, here’a hearty Bah Humbug to those who can justify corporate fraud, yet who get out of shape because maybe, just maybe the child of an undocumented worker might be rewarded with a $10 teddy bear at Christmas. These are the same folks who often hire undocumented workers to mow their lawn, or fix their toilets, yet yell the loudest because a miniscule percentage of the millions in grants to government agencies might inadvertently wind up under somebody’s Christmas tree of last resort.

To any but the most obdurate, intransigent Scrooge, the actions of the Salvation Army and the U.S. Marine Corps in depriving needy children in Nashville, and anywhere else in this nation, of Christmas are egregious especially when considering that other charities, like The United Way of Metropolitan Nashville, award millions in grants every year with no proof of citizenship requirement.

Any charity that would reject the children of immigrants at Christmas isn’t worthy of the name.

JAYNE LYN STAHL is a widely published poet, essayist, playwright, and screenwriter, member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA.