CULLOWHEE – The Angel Trees that sprout around campus after Thanksgiving invite everyone to try on their wings a little early. You just choose a paper ornament from the tree and follow the gift-giving instructions on the back. “Take new, unwrapped gift item(s) to Residential Living by Friday, December 17…”
Behind those simple instructions is a county-wide effort that involves churches and civic organizations, businesses, teachers, the credit union, county offices, the community college, Angel Wings at Western, and an army of volunteers directed by the main Angels, uh, co-chairs of the Jackson County Christmas Store – the Rev. Wanda Kidd and Elaine White.
Kidd, Baptist campus minister, began the gift collection project more than 15 years ago with a church youth group. Now, she says, “People have no idea how broad, how big, and how wide this is.”
The goal is to make it possible to give and receive with dignity.“What do you like about shopping?” Rev. Kidd asks, and she has the answer – getting a good deal on a gift, wrapping the present, and knowing what it is before the child does, so it’s a surprise.
Adults who are invited to shop at the Christmas Store select their own children’s toys within a $30 limit per child, and each child also receives a new outfit, socks and underwear. There’s also a special Mother’s Table where women can pick out some things for themselves, including toiletries, linens, picture frames, even cleaning supplies.
All of this takes months to organize and lots of people to help. Last year, 2000 volunteers worked with the Christmas Store to provide toys, books and clothing worth an estimated $35,000- $40,000 for 735 Jackson County children and their families. Of the total, Western’s faculty, staff and students contributed about $5,000 in gifts and cash with the Angel Trees project.
This year, Western staff and student workers in Residential Living began to organize their work on the Angel Trees as far back as May. With just a few days left before the December 17 deadline for gift donations, things are getting a little bit crazy, according to freshman Jennie V. Dowdle. But it is worth all the time and effort, she says. “It’s been a great experience for us. You feel like you’re giving to children who need your help.”
“For Elaine and me, the best thing is when people who received assistance from the Christmas Store become self-supporting and come back to help others,” Kidd says. Former Western students are on that list as are some now-well-placed county residents, she says.
Western’s Angel Tree organizers will accept gifts and cash up until noon on December 17 at the Residential Living office. The Christmas Store is asking volunteers to help with wrapping presents, last-minute shopping, and other services. You can sign up (call 293-9030) or just show up at the Baptist Student Union from noon to 6:00 p.m., December 7 through 10 and December 14 through 17.