Angels Among Us: Angel Tree volunteers share Christmas spirit
Every child deserves to experience the joy of Christmas morning.
That is why dedicated volunteers in Carroll County have established local branches of the Angel Tree program for their communities, enabling residents, churches and businesses to anonymously offer help to families in need during the holiday season.
The Berryville Community Center (BCC) has housed the Angel Tree project for the past five years thanks to the Berryville Community Center Foundation.
Volunteer coordinator Deneen Foster said holding the Angel Tree at BCC was the brainchild of herself and aquatics and programs director Renée Allison. Allison said foundation board member Lacey Powell also helps out a lot with the project.
“It’s something we wanted to do, and we had to run it by city hall first to see if it was OK,” Foster said.
She said the Angel Tree project is separate from their duties as city employees.
“It’s more of a volunteer program,” Foster said. “We got the OK from city hall to run it through here, which provides a nice central location.”
She said the community center has had a gift wrapping room set up for weeks with six tables and instructions on how to wrap. The foundation coordinates with the school counselors at the Berryville School District to determine which families need help, she said.
“We have a form to send out to families they feel are eligible for the program,” Foster said, “and we send that home to the families, explaining the Angel Tree project. It is a family’s option to fill it out and send it back.”
The school returns those forms to the foundation, she said, and volunteers fill out the information from the families’ request forms.
“They get request forms, which are a guideline to go by for the gifts,” Foster said. “We hang each child by number on the Angel Tree so people can come check out numbers, shop for them and bring the items back unwrapped. Then our volunteers wrap them, and we set up a time for distribution.”
She said many churches and business will shop for multiple children and often the entire family.
“They like to get the entire family and buy family items, too,” Foster said. “They wish to remain anonymous.”
This year, she said a group of students from Calvary Christian Academy volunteered one day and wrapped gifts for two and a half hours in addition to shopping for some children on the Angel Tree.
“A lot of volunteer hours go into this project. People donate money if they can’t shop, and that helps immensely,” Foster said. “We hate for ‘Child A’ to take home 17 gifts, and ‘Child B,’ their brother, gets three. The money helps immensely to even things out as best we can.”
The best part about coordinating with the schools, she said, is that the counselors know which students were supported by Shop with a Cop, Toys for Tots and other programs. That way, she said, the community can help as many families as possible.
“If they don’t do our program, then the school staff shops with them,” Foster said. “I appreciate the community stepping up every year. We had 192 kids this year, and all of them were covered.”
She concluded, “Before we started running the Angel Tree here, I had personally gotten to a point where I didn’t really like Christmas because it got so commercialized and was all about ‘me, me, me.’ This helped bring some of the Christmas spirit back to me.”
Eureka Springs High School is big on giving back, and that’s never more apparent than during the holiday season. That’s when students throughout the school come together to wrap gifts for Angel Tree recipients.
This year, the Angel Tree program served 132 local students who might not have received Christmas gifts without it. Junior Savannah Reeves said she’s enjoyed wrapping the gifts and seeing how much people are willing to donate to those in need.
“It’s nice to see how much we have this year, and to know people are willing to give and do something for others,” Reeves said. “We have wrapped a lot of gifts.”
Senior Makenzie Meyer said it’s intimidating to see so many gifts, but she’s happy to wrap them.
“It makes us feel good to know because of us wrapping and the community donating, these kids will have something to open on Christmas,” Meyer said. “They’re going to have something to look forward to.”
Senior Hayden Nance said he’s seen how giving people are first-hand as an office aide.
“I see them come in and drop off presents. They bring big garbage bags full of presents, and I just think that’s such a good feeling,” Nance said. “Kids are getting a Christmas this year. They aren’t feeling left out, and people are so happy to contribute.”
Nance continued, “They don’t expect a thank you. They’re just happy to do it. I think it’s so great to have that in our community.”
Senior Novaleigh Cline agreed.
“It’s just awesome to see the whole community come together to make sure kids get Christmas,” Cline said, “and we get to be part of that.”
“We’ve had a whole bunch of presents to wrap for people,” said sophomore Preston Hyatt. “It’s fun for us. A lot of us love wrapping, and we’d hate for kids not to have presents on Christmas morning.”
There’s definitely camaraderie in the room when everyone is wrapping gifts, Reeves said.
“We all have different styles, but it’s so much fun to do something like this with people you get a long with,” Reeves said. “You don’t think of it as a chore. You just think of how the kids are going to be so excited when they open their gifts, and they’re never going to guess what it is.”
Meyer said there are no cliques in the gift wrapping room.
“All the social walls come down. We put on Christmas music, and we just wrap presents,” Meyer said. “We’ll swap wrapping paper to try to make everything look all fancy. It’s fun, whether we’re throwing old wrapping paper balls at each other or wrapping things to look like a piece of candy.”
Cline said she appreciates getting to know her classmates better.
“People you never think you’d talk to because they’re so much better than you, I guess … well, you start talking to them, and you feel comfortable,” Cline said. “It’s really fun.”
Wrapping the gifts has changed her perspective on Christmas, Reeves said.
“You just never know what people are going through,” Reeves said. “It could be your classmates who don’t have Christmas presents. I’m happy to help. You would want somebody to do the same thing for you.”
Reeves added, “When you think about it, it’s all about giving back. You don’t have to expect a thank you. You just care for other people, and that’s really eye opening.”
Meyer said she’s happy to give instead of receive.
“It definitely shifts our point of view from, ‘I want this. I want this,’ to ‘Maybe not everybody gets this, and maybe somebody else would like this instead of me,’ “ Meyer said. “This whole season is about giving, and it’s nice to still make it a giving season instead of a receiving season.”
Nance remembered growing up in Texas, saying his mother would choose tags from the Angel Tree every year.
“She’d pick our one angel for us to help her pick out the presents for. That was something we always did,” Nance said. “I knew there were always kids in need, but seeing the response here is so much greater than it was down there.”
In Eureka Springs, Nance said, people are much more willing to give.
“It’s so great. It shows you the benefits of having a close community,” Nance said. “People care for each other. It’s nice to think of giving to someone else rather than saying, ‘I want, I want, I want.’ “
He continued, “When you do something like that, the feeling it gives you is better than the feeling you get when you get something you’ve been wanting for a long time. You know you’re giving and doing good in the world. Just giving to one kid at Christmas is a great feeling.”
Cline said she used to receive gifts through the Angel Tree program, so she knows how it feels to be on the receiving end of such kindness.
“I remember what it was like for me to receive these gifts. When I’m wrapping, I’m just thinking these kids are going to be so happy,” Cline said. “For one day out of the year, they’re going to be getting something they want, something new. It’s just awesome to see.”
Reeves said she’s thankful to the community for all the donations.
“Thank you for giving so much. Thank you for coming together to donate whatever you can,” Reeves said. “Anything helps. It’s so nice to see all of it.”
“It’s so encouraging to know your community is there for you giving so much,” Meyer said. “Christmas is not a guaranteed thing for everyone. Knowing we can make it happen for somebody when they didn’t think it was possible makes me really proud of my community as a whole.”