Angel Tree 2014 Santa’s Little Elves
‘Tis the season for picking out the plumpest tree, decking the halls and celebrating the coming of Christ with your friends and family. The ‘Most Wonderful Time of the Year’ is also a time to reflect on how much we have and give back to those who are in need.
For more than a decade, the Angel Tree has been the outlet to do just that. Each tag placed delicately on the tree, represents a name of someone in need. Some are veterans living in assistant living facilities and others are children who live in poverty. If you attended Mass last week, you may have noticed the trees that were once filled with tags are now bare, and the corners of the Narthex were filled with gifts galore. Parishioners purchased thousands of gifts for 1,068 children and adults in need this year- that’s a record for our parish. Although the need may just scratch the surface of all those struggling in our community, at this time, there is no doubt that our parish has spread a little cheer this year.
May your hearts be warmed when a child receives their first bicycle or an elderly veteran snuggles into a warm robe. You sure have set the bar quite high for Santa this year.
Stella McCaffrey heads up the Angel Tree every year at St. John XXIII. She and her army of volunteers work with nine ministries in Southwest Florida in fulfilling the need for children and adults and families who are financially struggling. She and the team have the process of inquiring, storing and distributing down to a science. There is no doubt that the Angel Tree would be the success it is without their hard work.DOWNLOAD THE BULLETIN
Danielle Koleniak: How did you get involved with the Angel Tree?
Stella Mccaffrey: I started as just a volunteer. I got involved through the Women’s Guild. It started out small- just 100-200 gifts. I was able to do it out of my home. Then it really grew and I realized I needed help and space to store the gifts. So, I went to the ladies in the Women’s Guild. A group of women collect about 100 gifts, log them in and store them until the various ministries can take them. It’s a process!
DK: This year, the parishioners purchased gifts for 1,068 children and adults. That’s quite the number!
SM: It’s the highest number we’ve ever done. Last year we had 790. Every year it increases because there’s a greater need. Our biggest client is St. Matin de Porres. The greatest need is there.
DK: The Angel Tree isn’t just for Children. This is for a dynamic group?
SM: We serve Catholic Charities’ elderly. The elderly are sadly a forgotten group. We also work with the Knights of Columbus in taking care of the veterans who are living in assisted living facilities. They come from all the branches of service. Most of them are WW2 vets. We also have two women veterans this year. We serve St. Martin de Porres, Manatee Elementary School, DeLasalle Academy, Veterans, our parish families who are home-bound, Jesus the Worker, The Villas, Catholic Charities Elderly and Lifeline Family Center.
DK: The Angel Tree also includes new/expecting mothers and babies. Right?
SM: We work closely with Lifeline Family Center. We have 24 gifts for that facility. New mothers, expecting mothers, and babies who will be born around the holidays will receive a gift.
DK: When you look at the tags, you see toys and then you see something as simple as a shirt or pair of pants. Talk about how the “wish list” is formed for each child or adult.
SM: The wish list is furnished by the leaders of each ministry who know the person best. I know the children need clothes and shoes but we want to include a toy for each child, too, because it’s Christmas. For the elderly, its just basic things like toiletries and robes.
This is the first year I’ve worked with Jesus the Worker. I could see the influence the nuns are having on the children because of what they were asking for. One child wanted a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe, another asked for a blue Rosary. One little boy wanted a bag of Skittles. Simple things. It’s amazing.
We have single mothers, even some in our own parish, who aren’t looking for anything for themselves; they want a gift card to purchase food.
DK: In the 9 years of you being actively involved in the Angel Trees, what’s the one thing that surprises you year after year?
SM: The shear volume of people in need. I’m not wealthy by any means, but I can’t imagine what some of these people are going through.
DK: When you see parishioners picking up the tags and bringing back the gifts, I’m sure you see some incredible things.
SM: It’s amazing. On Saturday this couple came in with a carload of gifts. They were thrilled to do it.
Our parishioners are so generous. On Friday, I learned someone dropped off six tricycles and beautiful little scooters. It’s wonderful to see people who have the means to give back.
DK: I’m sure the distribution process is tear jerking.
SM: When you see these kids it’s incredible. When they call out the child’s name and they bring out the bike, the look on their face is amazing. Thank you to our wonderful parishioners who purchased gifts for those in need this year.
Special thanks to volunteers Carol Warrell, Linda Sayres, Marilyn Brummer, Mary Bissaillon, Vicki Gelardi, Nick Piccoli, Stella McCaffrey, Mary Schmidt, Andrea Harley, and Sandy Szymanski for making the project a success! If you would like to give to the Angel Tree, the ministry is accepting monetary donations to purchase gifts for unreturned tags for those in need.