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'Hope and love' | How the Salvation Army's Angel Tree program sparked a ripple effect of kindness in one woman's life

Francis Rios said she received a 'Christmas miracle' from the Salvation Army when she was 9. It inspired her to pay it forward.

HOUSTON — KHOU 11 is teaming with the Salvation Army of Greater Houston to collect toys for 13,000 Houston-area children. The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program has been around for decades. The organization’s director of donor relations, Francis Rios, knows the program can change a child’s life.

“When I was younger, I was actually one of the angel tree recipients,” said Rios. 

She and her five siblings were helped by the Houston chapter of the organization when Rios was just nine years old. 

“We didn’t know if Christmas was going to happen,” Rios said. 

She says her mother was incarcerated at the time.

“And somehow my mother got in contact with some of the officers from the Salvation Army,” Rios said.  

They then paid Rios and her siblings a visit. 

Rios remembers the officers asking the children what they’d like for Christmas. Officers suggested clothing or shoes or toys. 

“We kept expressing, no we want our mom,” said Rios.

The Salvation Army delivered. 

“We were actually able to spend a few hours with our mom, who we hadn’t seen in months,” said Rios as tears rolled down her cheeks. “And so that was pretty powerful.” 

It was so powerful that it changed the Houston native’s life. She said she was inspired to pay the kindness forward and help others. Rios now works for the Salvation Army.

She said the Angel Tree program isn’t simply about a toy or clothing. “It’s honestly just hope and love.”

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“When you’re that kid and you honestly have nothing, and you get to finally say, hey I have Christmas, I have a gift. That means a lot. And it makes a lasting impression on people and it makes a lasting impression on a child.”

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