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The Salvation Army has reopened registration for its Angel Tree. Families of Lane and United Furniture with children 12 and under have until Dec. 9 to sign up.

Reporter
The Salvation Army has reopened registration for its Angel Tree. Families of Lane and United Furniture with children 12 and under have until Dec. 9 to sign up.
TUPELO – The sudden overnight termination of thousands of United and Lane furniture employees has brought out the best in northeast Mississippi residents.
The CREATE Foundation, in partnership with United Way of Northeast Mississippi, established a special assistance fund to help employees and the Salvation Army reopened Angel Tree registration to help their children.
Ashley Furniture also opened a pop-up job fair, while Itawamba Community College, the Community Development Foundation and Three Rivers Planning and Development District are all partnering for a job fair on Tuesday.
RELATED
» 2,700 lose jobs as United Furniture terminates entire workforce
» Former employees share stories of mass layoff
» Community coming together to support impacted workers
Salvation Army Capt. Heather Dolby said the Angel Tree program was initially limited to just 900 kids, but when officials saw the news early Tuesday morning, they had to act.
“We decided we had to reopen registration for United and Lane families to make sure their children have presents this Christmas,” Dolby said.
Anyone with children 12 and under can apply through Dec. 9. They should reach out to the Salvation Army through its Facebook page or by calling 662-842-9222 and leave a message. A recent pay stub from United or Lane will be used as their proof of financial need.
“Even if you have never adopted an Angel, we are asking the community to consider it now,” Dolby said. “We want these United and Lane families to know that even in this time of upheaval, neighbors are concerned about neighbors.”
Within hours of the mass termination, the CREATE Foundation was working to establish the Lane and United Employee Assistance Fund. Room to Room Furniture owner Lisa Hawkins immediately issued a $10,000 fund raising challenge to other businesses.
“A lot of people are wanting to do something. We are trying to identify what assistance is available and which agencies — like the Salvation Army, Lift and the different food pantries,” said CREATE director Mike Clayborne. “We will be working through these local groups. There are a lot of good partners out there.”
Clayborne hopes that by the beginning of next week, they will have specifics to be able to give families to start receiving assistance. The distribution will be handled through the United Way.
“The job fair next Tuesday will be the first distribution point of some assistance,” Clayborne said. “We will be distributing food gift cards to the families. The Community Development Foundation, CREATE and the Healthcare Foundation have already set aside funds. There will likely be several other partners.”
For more immediate needs, the Salvation Army also has an emergency food pantry. Families can visit the Carnation Street campus during regular business hour and pick up canned goods and nonperishable foods. For emergency clothing needs, the Salvation Army can issue clothing vouchers for families to shop at the thrift store.
Community Development Foundation CEO David Rumbarger said since the organization heard about the mass layoff, it has been working “feverishly” to assist the some 1,000 affected Lee County residents.
“The timing of this is tremendously unfortunate,” he said. “We are going to do everything we can to get these people back to work.”
To that end, CDF Director of Existing Business Development Maury Giachelli said the organization will partner with Three Rivers Planning and Development District and Itawamba Community College to provide a job fair Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the ICC’s Belden campus.
As of Tuesday morning, 12 companies agreed to join the fair, including Ashley Furniture and Toyota Mississippi. He said he hopes to have 20 employers at the fair.
“We’ve suffered closures like this in the past and come out stronger,” he said.
Gaichelli noted that he believed the county had a “great diversity” of furniture and other employers that should be able to pick up the laid-off workers. It is that diversity, he said, that gives him hope for the people.
Ashley Furniture took advantage of the sudden increase in people looking for jobs and set up a recruitment tent at Crosstown Tuesday.
“We’ve been doing these pop-ups for a couple of years,” said Ashley field recruitment supervisor Diana Ortiz. “We’ve had a lot of United employees stop by and fill out applications.”
They were looking for employees in all aspects of the business, from the production line to the administrative offices. For some new applicants, Ashley was scheduling interviews Tuesday afternoon.
“We will be back out here (Wednesday),” said Ortiz. “The ones who are coming by today, they are actively trying to solve a problem and are eager to work. The will be good employees. The ones who wait until after the holidays don’t have the same motivation.”
Reporters Caleb McCluskey and Regina Butler contributed to this report.
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