Angel tree projects are easy to spot in malls, churches and other public places around December as a means of spreading hope to low-income families and giving them a merry Christmas. The Salvation Army serves up Christmas spirit to families in states across the nation with their angel tree gift distributions. But they are not the only ones playing Santa Claus. The American Heritage Girls (AHG) troop at St. Augustine Catholic Church in Alachua County, Fla. works with community agencies to bring joy to migrant families by enabling them to have a merry Christmas.
The idea behind angel trees is that the tree is decorated with notes describing the needs of a particular child or family member. People select a tag from the tree, buy the gift or gifts listed and return them to the sponsoring organization with the tag attached for delivery to the correct family or person. AHG troop leader, Kelly Quintana says common needs for migrant families are men’s work boots, work shirts, diapers, formula and toys to bring smiles to the children’s faces, giving high praise for the church’s generosity in providing the items. She explains that the church is very generous, even donating supermarket gift cards and household supplies.
St. Augustine’s angel tree goes up for Thanksgiving and stays through Christmas. It has become a tradition for the last 15 years at the church, spreading hope and joy to population that struggles to even cover their basic living expenses. The low-income farm workers they serve often cannot even spare the cash for a Christmas tree, to say nothing of presents to put some merry in their children’s eyes on Christmas morning. Alachua County Multi-County Migrant Education program supervisor, Natalie Norris, explain that there are eligibility requirements for the families to qualify for the angel tree program. Their farm work must require them to move across county lines in the state in hope of finding work and their children must move with them despite the interruptions it causes to school and lifestyle.
Recipients are very grateful for the opportunity to see their children’s eyes light up when they discover the angel tree gifts on Christmas morning and realize that Santa did not forget them after all. Without the program, many kids would have no presents for Christmas and parents would be hard-pressed to explain the reasons to young ones who cannot understand nor need to know their parents’ economic details. Instead, the benefit flows both ways for the AHG troop members of the Christian scouting type organization, who can receive service hours for time spent helping prepare tags or distribute the gifts as well as the character building opportunity of serving others; and the families served who are now blessed bring to their children’s holiday dreams to life. In the very act of serving another person, the angel tree allows people of any age to spread Christmas merriment and hope in the dark and lonely reality in which many migrants live.
by Tamara Christine Van Hooser
WJHL 11 News Channel
Images courtesy of Eva Rinaldi – Flickr License