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You could be an angel for a needy youngster

Her Christmas list is short and sweet, not unlike those of other 13-year-olds: a blue sports bike, a guitar and maybe a CD player.

But money has been tight for Silvia Beganovic's family since 2003, when a lower back injury forced her father, Aljo, to stop working as a pool rebuilder, halting the household's income. Trips to restaurants and gifts around the Christmas tree were replaced by worries about how to pay the rent.

Without the help of strangers, Silvia and her five sisters would go without.

That's why the family is participating in the Salvation Army's Christmas Assistance Program, in which a needy child's first name, age, clothing size and gift requests are written on a paper angel. The angel is attached to a Christmas tree near the entrance to Sam Seltzer's Steakhouse at Gulf View Square mall.

Anyone may "adopt" an angel by buying gifts from a child's wish list or donating money at a desk near the angel tree by Dec. 15.

Families who fall below the poverty line (less than $20,000 a year for a family of four) can qualify.

Last year, the program donated items to 785 needy children. About 638 children qualified for the program this year. On Thursday, 162 kids' names remained on the tree.

The angels aren't being adopted as quickly this year, said Jeanne Coulter of the Salvation Army.

"We are struggling harder to meet needs this year," Coulter said. "People have given so much for hurricanes, and I think people are tapped out. But I can't say we've ever had a difficult time making sure every child gets what they need."

Silvia's mother, Snezana, wrote a gift list for the angel tree for each of her girls, who range in age from 3 to 13.

On Dec. 21, gifts will be given to parents by a group of students from River Ridge High School.

Until then, Silvia remains hopeful.

"It makes me upset to see my parents worry so much," said Silvia, whose parents speak mainly Bosnian. "We were surprised (to hear) people could help us out there."

Camille C. Spencer can be reached at (727) 869-6229 or cspencer@sptimes.com.

FAST FACTS

Want to help?

Volunteers are needed to sit at the angel tree at Gulf View Square from Dec. 11 through Dec. 15. For information, call Jeanne Coulter at (727) 847-6321, ext. 17.

HOLIDAY FOOD BOXES

The Salvation Army also offers holiday food boxes. A list of items to feed a family of four for Christmas can be faxed or picked up from the Salvation Army, 8040 Washington St. in Port Richey. The food items, or $30 (the estimated cost of the box's contents), must be dropped off by Dec. 15.

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