I met Jenna over 10 years ago (I feel so much older saying that…) at what I like to refer to as “Youth Director Boot Camp” as we both began in the youth ministry world. I loved her heart for other people. We both grew up, got married and had babies. She’s a counselor now, currently walking through the steps of living out her dream of helping kids using horse therapy. You can follow her journey over at her blog, A Classic Work in Progress or on Facebook.

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I was an angel tree kid.

I am not sure what people envision when they pull a name off of the tree at Christmas, choosing a child to be gifted by your generosity. Do you assume certain family situations. Races ? Politics? Welfare? And what happens to those kids?
I can’t speak for all of those little angels. But I can speak for one. For a period of time I was an Angel Tree kid. I don’t know if it was the official “angel tree” program. I am certain it was through our church. And someone shopped for gifts for me, like most programs.
A little history: we were never on welfare. My parents were divorced. We actually lived quite well for a while on a small horse farm. As time went on, things progressively changed. By my 8th grade year we were struggling. During this time my mom worked a minimum of 2 jobs. I had 2 sisters, one had moved out to college (which she paid for herself) and working. We lived in a nice town. Were involved in sports, 4-h, horseback riding and we worked while maintaining good grades.
So why Angel tree? Well one job my mom had was Walmart. And another as a CNA – not well paying jobs. And to be honest, in retrospect my mom was not making the best financial decisions. She never touched a drug in her life, but I can see now that her brain tumors were affecting her back then.
From what I am aware of, we were on church support programs from that time on. I remember getting Thanksgiving baskets too. I think my mom let us know about the source the gifts and food from the beginning.
There are a few pictures and emotions that I connect with significantly. Good, bad or indifferent. Sometimes I was grateful sometimes I was not. I’m just being honest.
I remember one year receiving a cd walkman I had asked for. I cannot tell you how much that meant to me. I don’t remember a single other gift I got that year. But this was what I wanted and I could listen to my music in privacy without criticism about choice or volume. It created a little world for me. I knew these gifts were from the program and someone out there in the bigger world thought of me, my wants and my hopes.
After some recent discussion about used gifts, I think about a situation with a “used” gift – not from Angel Tree. I remember opening a gift in 8th grade from probably “Santa” that was clearly a well used puzzle. MY puzzle. Yes, one i already owned and had put together. I was confused and disappointed. This was out of the ordinary. I wondered about my mom seriously. Not sure if it was her illness or we were that broke. But I wonder how embarrassing that was for her when I was clearly not excited about it. I wonder if parents feel that way when their kids get well loved gifts from strangers.
As a recipient, I remember getting clothing that I loved and shirts that I did not. To get the gift receipt and exchange it for something I liked, just like any other Christmas present, helped me feel more normal and more myself (since I already wasn’t cool in high school) and that is an empowering gift.
I asked my sister her thoughts, looking back on our experience. The thing that stood out to her is that it helped her know that God didn’t forget about us. Is there really anything else more important than that? (FYI she now is a Big Brother/Big Sister in her area and donates toys to needy kids every year).
And now, that Angel Tree Kid, me, some 15-20 years later: She has a family. A masters degree. Helps people for a living. Lives comfortably. Is happy and extremely aware of how blessed she is. 
I look forward to sponsoring a few families through Catholic Charities, the main organizer of this program in our area. We have sponsored 2 families , 5 kids total. I take their list with me to the Day after Thanksgiving shopping to get good deals on a few things they want. I don’t buy everything – I am not wealthy. But I make sure some of their requests are filled as closely as possible. I even throw in something for the parent if there is any info, like some pampering stuff or a gift card to a grocery store.
I do it out of a mix of emotions and reasons. Gratitude. Guilt. Fun. Excitement. Obligation. Charity. Self-fulfillment. Selfishness. Obedience. Empathy.
I look forward to involving my toddler more in the future. To see a world of real struggling people out side of our own who need him. Showing people that God hasn’t forgotten about them. If for nothing more than a coat or a toy. It doesn’t take much.
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