RIVERSIDE, Calif. -

Hundreds of needy children hoping for Christmas gifts may be disappointed this year unless the Riverside Salvation Army sees a surge in donations soon, a spokeswoman said today.

``Donations are way down,'' said Amy Overholt. ``We're hoping it's a case of they haven't come in yet. But right now, we don't even have a quarter of the donations we need to meet all the gift requests.''

According to the Salvation Army business administrator, more than 1,800
children were approved for the post's ``Christmas Angels'' program, under which
sponsors purchase gifts or contribute funds after signing their names to angel tags hung at the Riverside Salvation Army office, located at 3695 First St.

Overholt said 1,371 children qualified for last year's program, and all received gifts.

``Some of our larger donors chose to work with different charities this year. We don't hold that against them. But it's left us with a gap, and now we're feeling the pinch,'' Overholt told City News Service.

She said Christmas Angels, which started more than 20 years ago, has grown in popularity. Applications were taken during a six-day period in October, and on the first day, parents and guardians lined up around the Salvation Army building, waiting for an opportunity to fill out an application, Overholt said.

Families have to fall below an income threshold and demonstrate other
needs before they're accepted, according to Overholt.

``We have people from all walks of life,'' she said. ``Some people are suffering because of a job loss and have to choose between buying Christmas gifts and making their rent. Priorities shift.''

The Christmas Angels program focuses on providing gifts to youngsters
from a few months old to 12 years. Overholt said sponsors, who can be individuals and businesses, don't have to purchase a gift and drop it off. They can simply make a donation toward the program, and volunteers will go shopping on their behalf.

The Riverside Salvation Army tries to have all gifts available to families for pickup by Dec. 16.

The post is also behind on donations in support of its Christmas food box program. According to Overholt, around 600 people are expected to seek boxes, which contain traditional fixings, the week of Christmas.

Donations toward either the Christmas Angels or food box program can be made in person at the Riverside Salvation Army office, or online at http://www.salvationarmyusa.org.

Donors can specify the location they're supporting when they submit a payment.