For 203 Bitterroot Valley youngsters, their hopes and dreams for Christmas can be found on a small red or green angel at Hamilton’s Massa Home Center.
For the eighth year in a row, the local business is hosting the annual Angel Tree program that provides Christmas gifts to children enrolled in Ravalli Head Start and Early Head Start, as well as their siblings.
“It offers families an opportunity to give their kids the kinds of gifts that anyone else would receive on Christmas,” said Ravalli Head Start’s Family and Community Engagement Manager Janelle Hansen. “They ask for things like socks, underwear and winter coats. The necessities that a lot of people in the community just take for granted and go out and buy.
“Our families often are faced with hard choices and have to decide what their greatest need is,” Hansen said. “They can either pay rent, buy food, pay the power bill or go with a winter coat.”
But beyond those necessities, the children represented by the angels hanging on tree can also ask for something special.
“When the families come in and pick up their gifts, there are tears in their eyes,” Hansen said. “They are so grateful.”
Just as in years past, the Hamilton Angel Tree project is led by Deana Wolfe and Tory Johnson.
“We have people who come back every year to pick up an angel or two,” Johnson said. “They start calling in November to ask when the angels are going to arrive.”
Wolfe said every year the angels disappear and people return with armloads of gifts for children they’ll never meet.
“The generosity of this community is overwhelming,” Wolfe said.
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This year that generosity was on display early when the pair received word that two sisters were asking for beds because theirs were falling apart. Wolfe said Bitterroot Furniture stepped up to provide two beds to the family.
“This time of year, we all kind of put everything on hold,” Wolfe said. “It’s all hands on deck. Every year I wished I would get started a little earlier doing my own Christmas shopping, but it never gets done until we’re done with the angel tree. You have to stay focused to make sure that everything works just right.”
The effort receives some help from other local businesses. Merchants Moving and Storage provide a portable storage unit where all the gifts are stored. Ford's Department Store and Main Street Toys offer a 10% discount for people purchasing gifts for the angel tree.
Wolfe enjoys seeing parents bring their children into the store to pick out an angel and then seeing the youngsters' excitement when they return with the gifts. There are a lot of grandparents whose own families have asked for money for Christmas who come in and pick up an angel or two.
“They love being able to go out and shop for gifts,” Johnson said. “You can tell they’re happy when they bring in what they’ve found.”
Hansen said Wolfe and Johnson provide a gift to the community through their hard work and organization.
“They’ve got it down to a science,” Hansen said. “They know their timelines and what they have to get so all the kids in a family get an even number of gifts on Christmas day. The work they do is incredible.
“This year over 200 kids 18 years and younger will receive gifts because of Massa and our generous community,” she said. “Our community really, really comes together in ensuring that people have a memorable holiday just like everyone else.”
Both Wolfe and Johnson are happy to be part of that.
“I can’t imagine that we would ever give this up,” Wolfe said. “We have a lot of ownership and pride in this. This is our deal and we love doing it.”