Piles of presents and loads of canned goods filled multiple offices at Sunset Avenue School late last week, the embodiment of the Christmas spirit delivered from the hearts of young children — as well as their parents, teachers and administrators — hoping to provide a bright holiday for less fortunate friends and their families.
The angel tree outreach has become a regular occurrence at Sunset Avenue, which has participated in the program since the school’s inception five years ago. This year, the school again received significant donations from Walmart and the effort was similarly bolstered by Sunset’s Parent-Teacher Service Organization, whose members purchased toys and clothes and worked tirelessly to sort clothing by sizes and wrap gift after gift.
In all, stacks upon stacks of canned goods and other non-perishables were collected and around 500 gifts wrapped for some 20 families at Sunset Avenue School alone. A total of 75 children, including Sunset students and siblings ranging in age from less than 1 year old to 16 years old, will benefit from the program, said Sunset Avenue school counselor and program coordinator Mary Carol Tart.
Sunset Avenue School, along with the rest of Clinton City Schools, including Butler Avenue, Kerr, Sampson Middle and Clinton High, received donations this past summer from Walmart as part of the outreach. “Thanks to Walmart, every school got close to 100 pairs of gloves, 100 toboggans, 100 pairs of tights, 50 pairs of socks and 75 pairs of slipper socks,” Tart said.
She works with administrators at the other schools to ensure that efforts are not being duplicated for siblings and that the optimal amount of students can receive a good Christmas. “When we do siblings, they don’t get a lot of toys, but they do get good clothes,” said Tart.
This year at Sunset, every child received about seven to eight gifts, including a complete outfit, shoes and toys. Some received gifts or food, or a combination of both.
“Some just ask for help with gifts,” said Tart. However, food is just as needed for some families as the children who get two meals a day at school will be home for two weeks, making strapped budgets that much tighter. Any extra food goes to the Crisis Center and the Food Bank, further expanding the reach of the program toward fulfilling a community need.
Sunset principal Greg Dirks said participation in the angel tree program has gotten better each year. While the economy has not been the best for anyone over the last few years, when there is a need, people in the community step up to help, he said.
“It’s a sense of pride,” said Dirks. “It’s us giving back to the community, because the community gives so much to us.”
Presents were picked up throughout the day last Thursday and up until late Friday morning, to be delivered to the homes of students and their families so that a brighter Christmas might be had by not only the student, but their brothers and sisters.
The students who benefit from the angel tree are discreetly identified at school, and families contacted to see whether assistance for Christmas would be appreciated.
“Teachers will give names of students in their class who might not have sufficient clothing or school supplies, or doesn’t have field trip money,” said Tart. “We call the families and say ‘somebody in school thought you could use some help.’”
While some might decline the offer, others are overwhelmed at the show of generosity — and the school is eager to help in any way it can.
“We don’t want to offend or embarrass anybody,” Tart said, “but if they want our help, we want to make sure all our kids have a happy Christmas.”
While parents and teachers wrapped gifts, fifth grade Student Government students separated all the canned goods to be distributed.
Kendall Spell said the goal of the angel tree was simply to make sure kids were happy. Fellow fifth grader Shawn Matthews agreed.
“We want to help other kids who are less fortunate than us,” he said.
“We hope it inspires kids and gives them a good Christmas,” Luis Pineda added.
One mother whose children were able to receive gifts because of the angel tree said she was humbled and grateful for the program and those who gave toward it.
“It’s a nice program,” said the mother of six children, ranging in ages from 6-12. She was included in the angel tree several years ago, and expressed just as much joy when she saw this year’s outpouring. “They did a lot for the kids. It was really nice. They did a lot more than I expected.”
After helping her load the car with gifts, Tart gave her a hug and the mother thanked her several times.
Tart, in a message to parents, teachers, friends and other helpers, expressed her thanks to those who “shop, wrap, sort and deliver every year — you make it happen!” she said.
While the effort can sometimes be tough, any feelings of frustration are quelled by the love shown by many.
“I look around at my office at all the gifts and food, and I think about all the wonderful parents, staff members and family members that made it happen, and I can’t help but smile and be happy,” Tart stated. “Best of all, I know my kids will all feel special and loved at Christmas.”
And that special feeling is shared by the students who take part in the angel tree.
Spell said she has done the variation of the angel tree that includes actual trees put up at work and church with the names of needy families dangling from homemade ornaments. “There would be a tree and we would take off a slip of paper that has a little girl or boy’s name and has their sizes,” said Spell.
The school’s angel tree does not identify the students receiving assistance, and there are no trees with dangling ornaments adorned with names, but Spell said that doesn’t matter. The goal is still the same — to help someone who needs it, and knowing that someone their age, maybe even younger, will have a happier Christmas because someone else cared.
Looking around at the presents and food, the students give a simply bittersweet assessment, that while the need is great, a school and a community working together was able to help.
“It makes me sad, but it also makes me happy,” said Spell, “that a bunch of people cared about them this much.”
“It shows how much people appreciate others,” Matthews added, “and how much they care.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.