ROBERT PIERCE • Leader & Times
Thanksgiving is less than a week away, and traditionally, the day after Thanksgiving is the biggest shopping day of the year and the official kickoff to the Christmas shopping season.
While shopping for friends and family this year, the Liberal Area Coalition for Families is asking people to consider buying gifts for children and senior citizens as well.
The coalition is hosting its annual Angel Tree project, which LACF’s Julie Foster said will help provide specific services to the community and those in need this holiday season.
The project has two Angel Trees, one each for children and seniors, which Foster said are the groups in the most need.
“When there’s a family who struggles, usually, the kids are the ones who are impacted the most, so we want to make sure this holiday season, we’re able to help those families and make sure their kids have a good Christmas,” she said. “On the other hand, we have our nursing home folks, and there may be some who don’t have any family around anymore. Maybe their family lives far away, or maybe the family can’t visit them to keep them safe due to COVID. I understand a lot of families are protecting them by not being around, which is very hard on both sides.”
The Silver Tree for nursing home residents will be located at Keating Tractor, where interested gift givers can adopt an angel from the tree from Dec. 1 until Dec. 15.
Foster said she has dropped off applications to local nursing homes to allow residents there to participate in the tree.
“They’ll fill out information as to the size of clothing, what they like, hobbies, what they need, what drinks or snacks they like to give an idea to the person who is going to purchase a gift as to what to get them,” she said.
This is the third year Foster has helped with the Angel Tree project, and she said she has seen some great items bought for people in the first two year.
“It’s almost humbling to know somebody’s asking for a gift you may use on a daily basis and not even think about it,” she said.
Foster said angels do not contain any identifying information.
“It’s all kept confidential,” she said. “They have a special number only the nursing home knows who it belongs to. We try to protect the residents by making sure that information stays confidential.”
Foster said staff at nursing homes will help residents complete applications.
“Nothing is going to be put on there that will harm the resident. It’s all approved by staff. Also, the list is completed with the help of the staff.”
Last year was the first year of the Silver Tree, and Foster said it went great.
“I have had a lot of good feedback,” she said. “I visited a nursing home to drop off the forms for them, and they said the residents were so happy, and they were very thankful for the coalition. They told us that thanks to us, the residents were going to have another amazing Christmas. It means a lot.”
Foster said the Silver Tree is special to her because with much of the holidays’ focus on children, the tree puts more focus on a population all too often forgotten at Christmastime.
“We have a lot of help for our children within the community, but there’s this other spectrum of elderly folks,” she said. “We don’t want to forget about them. A lot of times, as sad as it sounds, we tend to forget about them. They may not have families at all. I think that makes it even sweeter to know we’re able to be there for them when they don’t have anybody else for the holidays.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic in place throughout most of 2020, Foster said Angel Tree officials kept safety in mind when delivering presents to nursing homes.
“We weren’t allowed to enter,” she said. “We drove up to the nursing home, and staff met us outside. Staff got all the presents and did the distributing.”
Foster added she has seen items from as small as candy bars to as big as basketball goals bought as gifts for both trees.
“We had to get somebody to come help with the basketball goal, but it’s pretty open to whatever you and your family would like to give, “ she said. “If you think it’s under that age group and you feel comfortable with gifting it, of course, we want to keep the kids safe, but we’ve never run into any problems with the gifts.”
For families in need who want to receive gifts from the Angel Tree, applications will be taken from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 26, and from to 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 27, at Liberal’s First Baptist Church.
“We’ll be taking down information and making sure you fall under the income guidelines,” Foster said. “This is going to be focused on low-income families. We can get you on the list. Our only requirement is you come apply and it’s low income.”
The children’s Angel Tree will be found at Sunflower Bank, where Foster said people can adopt those angels.
“They have done this Angel Tree for nine years, and they asked us to organize it this year,” she said. “We’re already very connected to the community and to the families who are in need. We have a great host site at First Baptist Church, and I think it all makes sense.”
Foster said traditionally, the Angel Tree for younger people has a good turnout.
“People know to go to Sunflower Bank for these angels,” she said. “I’m just happy to be part of that.”
Despite the pandemic, Foster said 2020 donations went quite well.
“We’ve had a great turnout every time we do the Angel Tree,” she said. “The Silver Tree was the first year, and that went very well. There were a lot of community members who showed interest in being part of that. I’m hoping we’re able to continue that.”
Foster said putting on the Angel Tree project takes a lot of effort.
“It’s over two months in planning, lots of hours and lots of phone calls, lots of outreach,” she said. “It’s a lot of work, and that’s fine. I’m going to be busy all December, and that’s okay. As long as we’re able to help others, I’m just fine with that, but it does take a lot of work and a lot of volunteers too.”
The gifts from the Sunflower Bank Angel Tree will be distributed from noon to 5 p.m. at First Baptist Church.
“If you applied and you got on the Angel Tree, you can come pick up your gifts then,” Foster said.