Churches and organizations in Zachary are employing a variety of methods to promote giving and community service during the holiday season. Angel trees, a campaign to match children and families in need to gift-givers, is a popular tradition also used in Zachary. St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, the Chamber of Commerce and the Americana YMCA are among the organizations participating in Angel Tree efforts.
The Rev. Ashley Freeman, pastor of St. Patrick’s, said giving and serving others is an important aspect of the church’s functions and has led them to work with Angel Tree program sponsored by the Interfaith Federation of Baton Rouge. “This church, when I started here, had done Christmas angels in the past,” Freeman said. “This was one of the first things I did when I got here; I called them and said we need Christmas angels and the first year they got us about 40.”
Freeman recalls that 40 angels were taken very quickly, and last year, they requested about 50, but those were scooped up by the second day. He was happy to hear that the Federation was placing 80 Christmas Angels at St. Patrick’s this year.
Parishioner Beth Kimble said the angels have become a popular part of their holiday traditions. "First of all, this is something that we've been doing for years so the want to do it was there, we just didn't have the way for a few years,” she said.
The St. Patrick’s Angel Tree was available Dec. 2 and, by day’s end, about half of the Christmas angels were gone. “As far as this church goes, this is the easiest thing I do all year,” Freeman said. “It's quite literally: the tree’s up, the angels are on it, go get them.”
Not all participants are members. People who know about the effort can also visit the church and adopt an angel. “We just had a woman who is not a member of the church and who is not a parent of a child in our school who came in and heard that we had Christmas angels and wanted to participate,” Freeman said. “She said last year, her husband had been laid off. They had a six-month period without a job, and they were really in bad shape financially, and last year the only reason they had Christmas stockings for their kids was because of the generosity of strangers. She said ‘I heard you had them here, and I wanted to get one because I want to pay it forward.’ ”
The paper angel has the child’s name, age, sizes and Christmas wishes. They often put practical needs instead of what Freeman refers to as “kid-related” gifts. He said his members will often get everything that’s all the tags and add extra gifts that are more like kids-stuff and toys. Everyone who has taken an angel tag is expected to return the gifts to the church by Dec. 12.
The area Salvation Army placed Christmas Angels at the Zachary Chamber of Commerce. “Every Christmas, there are children who do not receive gifts because their families are struggling financially and cannot afford the expense,” the group explained on their national website. “The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree Program has been running for over 35 years to ensure that these children have a wonderful holiday season with their families.”
Area business owner and Chamber ambassador Felicia Young helped connect the Salvation Army effort and the Zachary Chamber. The walls of the Chamber office were used to display 20 angels from the Salvation Army. The recipients will be children under the age of 11.
By Monday afternoon, only one angel remained, and it was already spoken for and waiting to be picked up. Zachary High student Maddie Watts said her family decided to reach other children through the Angel Tree effort. “I think we are doing it so we are able to help other people out,” she said. “And it also helps us see what we have and have a better appreciation for it.”
Young, the Chamber’s Ambassador of the Year, said she suggested the idea of the Angel Tree to help to promote the spirit of giving this holiday season. “It is not enough for us to give to those we love, but to give unselfishly to those in need,” she said. “By providing gifts for these families, we demonstrate love of community and that becomes a great gift for us all.”