The Angel Tree program started as a small endeavor in 1979. Over the years, it has become a cornerstone holiday project run by more than 7,000 Salvation Armies across the country. This fall, I was able to experience my fourth Angel Tree season. Locally, Angel Tree is a gargantuan feat that requires thousands of staff and volunteer hours, thousands of donors, and over a million dollars worth of donations…all on behalf of nearly 5,000 Central Texas families and a record number of 11,300 children.
As a development team of fundraisers and communications professionals, we often joke that we need master's degrees in supply chain logistics to execute the Angel Tree program. The moving of 45,000 gifts from stores and the hands of donors into the grateful arms of parents rivals any day at FedEx and UPS.
While we sink into the final days of Christmas preparations, we are exhausted but full of gratitude. Gratitude shared with us by grateful parents and gratitude we want to share with our donors and the greater Central Texas community.
On Friday afternoon, day four of distribution, I had been on my feet for eight hours and still had a few more to go. I asked if there was any task I could do while sitting down for a bit. My team member pointed to the exit door and explained I could "bounce" it to help the flow of traffic as people were attempting to come in through the back door. So I sat next to the door and, for over an hour, thanked everyone for coming and wished them a Merry Christmas. It was a heartwarming experience as EVERY person responded in kind, and I realized we all need to have a shift as the goodbye greeter.
On Monday morning – the last day of distribution, a mom brought back in the rain the grocery cart she had used to get her children's gifts to her car. I thanked her for returning it, and she burst into tears. She quickly informed me that they were happy tears because she was so relieved. This year had been hard for her family, and now her children would have gifts on Christmas morning. She said she was so tired of being strong in front of her children, and a weight was lifted off her shoulders as she, too, could now enjoy Christmas. As my eyes welled up, I gave her a big hug and told her I was so glad we were able to be here for her and that I would pray that the new year would be a better one for her family.
Major Reckline always says yes, it's about the gifts, but it's also about bringing hope. This year I got to see that in action. I hope you have a truly blessed Christmas, and I hope you have a 2023 full of abundance, faith, joy, and hope.
- Stacy Ehrlich, Director of Development