The Angel Tree

ChristmasThis is a little late for “Giving Tuesday,” but the angst is fresh so I’m gonna use it. That’s what we writers do. Anyway, I stopped by my daughter’s school today to get an angel from the angel tree. I’ve never contributed to an angel tree and if you haven’t, here’s how it works. Kids and families are asked what they want for Christmas and those items are listed anonymously on a paper angel that gets hung on a tree. Donors pick an angel or two, buy the items, and return them to the tree coordinator, who distributes them.

My daughter’s school sent out a message last week saying it had a tree for students’ families. So I thought, great, I’ll go, pick out an angel, buy some stuff, and I’m done. I looked at that tree expecting to get a nice toy to put a smile on some kid’s face on Christmas morning.

I was not prepared for what I saw. So many of the angels said “socks” or “underwear” or “boots” or “jacket.” I had to look hard for one that asked for a toy. There were a few, but the majority asked for basic items that most of us take for granted. It gave me a knot in the pit of my stomach. These kids weren’t homeless or living in poor areas. They went to school with my daughter. They could’ve been her friends. And I didn’t know.

It’s not like I’m naïve. I know there are families who struggle with finances, with keeping a roof over their heads. I know there are families who don’t have enough food or money for basic necessities. It’s not like I haven’t thought about it. A month ago, I decided that every week when I shop for groceries, I’d buy something for the food bank. I know they get a lot of donations for Thanksgiving, but after that, not so much. I know that when school’s out, lots of children go without breakfast or lunch. I knew those families were out there.

What I didn’t know, or I guess just didn’t realize, was that, given a chance to get a toy, some kids would ask for socks or underwear or other basic necessities. I didn’t realize that some families went without that stuff. I mean, sure, I know that there are homeless people and families living in shelters and people who are just above homeless status financially, but I guess I figured they could get what they needed from humanitarian organizations, or the shelters, or they’d have enough money to go to the thrift store. And maybe they do, but I’ve never thrifted socks or underwear. I always figured that people would want new underwear. Turns out they do.
Angel 2I don’t live in a town where I see poverty. I mean, sure we have some affordable housing and I see some run-down homes, but we really don’t see the effects of poverty here. Until now.  And that’s why I wasn’t prepared to see what I saw. I walked out of the school with two angels, and as I drove away, my stomach seized. Two Angels? I could certainly afford more than two. So why did I just pick two? I guess I thought that’s how it worked. You take one or a couple and you get the stuff and bring it back. And that’s what I would have done back in Seattle, when our finances were tight. From our privileged point of view. But now they’re not.

So I’m gonna go back. I’m gonna go back and take as many angels as I can manage. And I’m gonna think more about how I can do the most good in the world. And at this point in the post, I’m gonna ask you to do the same thing. I would especially urge you to find an angel tree and see firsthand what’s out there, and do your best to help. Make someone’s holiday happy. Please do.

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