Helping run our school’s Angel Tree service project

Delivering gifts to our partner school in 2017.

Every year, Lexie’s elementary school does an Angel Tree for families in need from our school as well as our “partner” school. (In our school district, every school PTA is paired up with another school to help that PTA with advice or volunteers. Usually a more well-to-do school is paired with a less fortunate school.) It isn’t done at all schools, but we have a tradition with our PTA of doing an Angel Tree as a service project.

And since I am PTA president this year, of course, I am more involved in the project than I have been in the past. Most years, I have just bought items. Last year, I helped cart over the goodies. This year, I did both those things as well as advertise the event and organized the wrapped gifts that came in. Luckily, I had someone else who was actually in charge of the event.

It was her job to contact the counselors at each school.  The counselors select families in need of a little help during the holiday season and submits wish lists of items these families need. It could be household items, clothes or toys for the kids. The lady in charge then put the list online for people to sign up. We had 16 families at our school and 18 at our partner school.

Now many Angel Trees stop gifts for kids past the age of 12, but we don’t abide by that. We give gifts to everyone in the family, whether they are two months old or 17 years old. We also give to the parents and address family needs which can be anything from blankets, towels, kitchen supplies to just cleaners, laundry detergent or shampoo. In the end, we had 168 individuals or family needs on our list. Wow!

I have had friends in the past who have had to rely on Angel Tree for their kids to have anything for Christmas, so I am always happy to help. I started with adopting one kid and then moved to adopting two – one for each of my kids to help. Of course, Lexie and Jase don’t fully understand the struggle these families endure. They have a room full of toys and can’t imagine kids being happy with clothes or shoes as gifts. But we always gave those items in addition to a toy.

As the years went on this morphed into me adopting the whole family, so we would adopt two kids and buy something for the parents (usually clothes) and buy whatever their family needs were. It is hard not to go overboard with buying so I always set a budget.

This year, I decided to forgo the buying items for kids. I looked at the family needs for some of the family needs from our “partner” school. They wanted cleaning supplies, laundry detergent and blankets. I happen to be at Sam’s Club and noted that many of the cleaners came in packages of 4 so it only seemed logical to “adopt” four families. I bought laundry baskets, trash bags, laundry detergent and blankets from my local grocery store to add to the cleaners I bought at Sam’s Club. I then added tissue boxes and paper towels from my own supplies. I think they turned out very well. (Sorry for the slightly blurry photo.)

Since our Angel Tree had so many families/individuals on the list, we struggled to fill some of the last spots, which were for parents who were asking for clothes. I looked at the list and saw that many of the moms wanted jackets. I had just come into some extra dough after selling something on Craigslist, so I took that money and bought three jackets and then at least one other thing on their list – a scarf, a candle, a shirt and a hat and gloves. Yes, after doing 4 family needs, I “adopted” three more people – and spent exactly the amount I made from Craigslist.

And a week after the due date for all the gifts, our PTA room was swamped with wrapped packages. We have a very generous community. Everyone on that list got multiple things. Some had 2-3 wrapped packages, but I saw kids with 6 or 7 gifts, including a bicycle!

It took us four SUVs to haul over the portion that went to our partner school. They were ecstatic to see all those packages and couldn’t wait to deliver them to the needy families. What a great feeling to know you are helping others have a brighter, happier Christmas!

Explaining the Angel Tree/charity to my kids

Every year, there are toy drives during the holidays. Jase’s school does an Angel Tree with our sister school. The sister school picks out families in need of a little help during the holiday season and sends our school the list of what is needed. It could be household items, clothes or toys for the kids.

I want my kids to be generous and caring. I want to encourage them to help those in need of a little help so last year we adopted a family from the tree. We bought blankets for the parents and a toy for the boy as well as two new outfits. Jase didn’t relish the thought of giving clothing for Christmas. I knew he would be less than thrilled

Christmas tree uid 1426680

to receive clothes under the Christmas tree. But I explained that this family needed the clothes more than they needed toys. I am not sure he really understood.

This year, I wanted to get Lexie and Jase a little more involved in the picking of items. I let them each choose one kid from the tree that is close to their age. Before we picked the kids, I sat down and talked to them about how some people have less than we do. Some families struggle to get by and that some kids don’t have a room full of toys like they do.

I don’t think they understand. Even when we participate in food drives throughout the year, they don’t understand that other kids may not know where their next meal is coming from. Sometimes Lexie complains that she is “starving,” but I know she had no clue what it is to go hungry. And really, neither do I. Luckily for our family, we have never been in that situation.

I turned to the Internet to see if there was any advice on how to explain these things to them but didn’t find much that would help. Some sites recommended researching a charity and supporting it. Some sites recommended taking them to a soup kitchen or homeless shelter to volunteer. I just don’t feel comfortable with that at this age.

I also found a commentary on Forbes about a man who said he doesn’t give to toy drives. His belief is that giving to toy drives doesn’t FIX any problem. He would rather his money go to finding solutions. Giving to a toy drive is just not the best use of your limited “charity” money in his opinion.

And while I understand the merits of what he is saying – yes, there may be better uses for our money, I still will be participating in toy drives or our local Angel Tree. I have had friends whose families have relied on Angel Trees to provide gifts for their kids. Those children had little and were very appreciative for the small gifts and clothes they received. It helped them out when their families were struggling.

How can making kids happy not be good? Yes, it would be nice to find a way that those kids have a safe place to live or a warm, filling meals each day. But I don’t have it in my power to change those things. Yes, I can research and give my money to a charity that might help them, but I can also make two local kids have a happier Christmas – and hopefully teach my kids about helping others – by participating in the school’s Angel Tree.