By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Angel Tree Celebrates Decade Of Giving
Center for Human Services Angel Tree recipients Maximiliano Paredes-Chavez, 2, and brother Emilio, 10, were delighted when gifted their items by staff member Gladys Porter. Photo Contributed

Things look very different for the team of Oakdale’s Center for Human Services. As the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged many in the way of business and otherwise, one thing remains constant for the non-profit: their service to the community must go on.

CHS Oakdale Program Director Tamberly Stone shared she and her staff have been working really hard to accomplish that goal.

“We haven’t closed for one day,” she said of the change in the times, globally speaking. “We’re working harder than ever before.”

Stone noted the importance of the center’s ongoing service to the community, adding they have seen an increase in families needing their assistance, those who have either been directly affected by COVID or indirectly by way of job loss or the like.

So as the team looked forward to events in mid-fall one thing became apparent, it would not be “business as usual” for their community service events, and more specifically, the ever popular Angel Tree.

“I knew stuff was going to have to change,” Stone said of her thoughts following a meeting with the organization’s Executive Director. “I think that throughout this pandemic, it’s a series of pivoting. Pivot here okay, now I’m going to pivot here.”

Recognizing a need to be creative to keep the Angel Tree Project (and many others) going, Stone first contacted longtime supporters and site organizers at the Learning Tree Preschool, as well as the Oakdale Leader.

According to Stone, both locations are among the longest participants as the event looked to celebrate its 10th year of offering services to the community.

The trio equally agreed gift cards would be the most viable and impactful option in lieu of the tradition of taking tags to fulfill wish lists of gifts. A compromise which would look much different and be a bit more challenging to manage, yet beat the alternative of not hosting the event at all. A notion which Stone confessed, never once crossed the mind of her and her staff.

“Everybody is struggling right now, so many people. People who weren’t struggling last year and didn’t need Angel Tree need it now,” Stone explained. “I never know who all of our donors are. I know that it’s the community, but I don’t know every single person.”

To that end, she added that some donors may not be comfortable going out and shopping this year or may be “high risk,” making gift cards a more donor-friendly option.

With collection sites down to seven and 129 children in need of some Christmas Spirit, Stone admitted to finding herself slightly concerned with the ability to fulfill the need.

“Especially for me and the way I operate,” she said, “it was really hard. At least I could call my sites before and say ‘how many angels do you have left?’ and think okay, I may need to go shopping.”

The Program Manager shared that as the trees went up it became apparent that some of the sites were struggling with collection. Gift cards weren’t coming in on time, which increased her nerves.

“I had a goal. I had a goal of giving each child $50 and then we had a back-up plan,” Stone confessed. “I really wanted to give every kid $50.”

And as always seems the case; that wish was realized.

“I say it every year. I’m surprised every year. I don’t know why I’m surprised, but I am. This community is amazing,” Stone shared, choking back emotion. “They come out and support families in our community, every single time. I don’t know why I’ve ever, ever doubted.”

The gift cards, however, weren’t the only “change” for the 10th annual Angel Tree event. So too would be the distribution location. Thanks to the support and partnership between Stone and Atlas Court Christmas coordinators Alicia and Bob Crossman, the decision was made to distribute what was received amongst the miraculous light show.

“They use Atlas Court as a platform event to help us,” Stone said of the holiday partnership “They’re just really kind and loving people.”

The Crossman’s not only welcomed Stone’s vision of hosting the giveaway on Atlas, they were all in, noting to Stone that “this is what this (the light show) is all about.”

On Thursday, Dec. 10, families arrived to Atlas Court, many for the first time and were not only treated to a light show but reusable totes filled with stocking stuffer items, gift cards, mystery gifts (donated through a third party) personally wrapped cookies and a choice of milk, chocolate milk or water.

“These families got super spoiled, super blessed and it was so fun,” Stone said.

The “spoiling” exceeded Stone’s goal, when in the 11th hour a community member contacted her and made a large donation to help put the gift card total over the top. Once all tallied, a total of $10,000 was collected in gift cards for distribution to the families.

“We had sites and then we had some private donors,” Stone shared, adding being extremely overwhelmed by the generosity.

The “reward” came for Stone and her team that night as they watched the magic through the eyes of the children and their families, many experiencing the east end Christmas light show wonderland for the very first time.

“We had to make it happen,” Stone said. “It was just going to look different. Over $10,000 in gift cards on our 10th anniversary at a super cool location … never would have imagined.”

And while it took some creative thinking, Stone said it turned out for the best.

“That’s the beauty of COVID,” she continued. “It pushes us out of our box and makes us be uncomfortable in a way and be creative and innovative in a way that we’ve never been before. Something beautiful happened.”

Feedback from the clients through the CHS Facebook page overwhelmed Stone and her staff following the evening’s event, as did watching the families walk around and view the lights multiple times.

“I think for me watching my staff get to do that, with families they’re connected to and kind of have a joyous moment amidst some really hard moments, is probably the best part of it,” the CHS leader said of what the night meant for her personally. “My staff is working so hard, so to see them smile and get teary and have families cry because of the gift we’re giving them. Those moments watching them … they all deserve awards. Those two-and-a-half hours were really priceless.”