They call her Mrs. Salvation Army

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Operation Smile Saver benefits all children at one California elementary school.

by Karin Hesseltine –

A young girl smiles after receiving new clothes during Operation Smile Saver.

When Linda Tucker walks onto the campus of Westside Elementary School in the impoverished town of Thermal, Calif., the children flock to her, calling out, “Here comes Mrs. Salvation Army!” Some throw their arms around her for big hugs. Others grin shyly and wave. Tucker works tirelessly sharing the love of Christ by bringing Christmas to children who don’t usually have much. In January she and her army of volunteers provided toothbrushes, toothpaste, school supplies, and a toy or gift to all 580 students.

Linda, wife of a retired dentist, became concerned about the health of low-income children when she learned that basic hygiene products like toothbrushes, toothpaste, and soap could not be purchased with food stamps. She put her concern into action by launching Operation Smile Saver four years ago, in conjunction with the association she and her family have had with The Salvation Army for several generations.

Over the years, her efforts have expanded to include other gifts, including toys and, for the most needy, complete outfits of clothing, including shoes.

For many of the children it is the first time they have had a toothbrush or their very own tube of toothpaste. They examine each item and smell the soap in wonder. The girls rush off to the restrooms to try on their new clothes; the boys simply put their new clothes on over what they are already wearing.

The children are gracious and faithfully write thank-you letters to Linda and to The Salvation Army. She treasures every one, storing them carefully and, often tearfully, sharing them with others.

Linda spends countless hours clipping coupons and watching for just the right items to go on sale, transforming her home into a highly organized storehouse. Several local dentists have become involved with Operation Smile Saver, and there are also numerous volunteers who shop, organize and help distribute the gifts.

To the children at Westside Elementary, no matter how meager Christmas was in their homes, they know they will be blessed with Christmas in January because of “Mrs. Salvation Army”!

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