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Spotlight on Los Alamos: Angels among us

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By Kelly LeVan

Many families have their own special holiday traditions. The “extended family” at Immaculate Heart of Mary has one as well – and it involves hundreds of presents.Actually, this year, the church hopes to collect around 1,000 gifts, and rather than distribute them to its own family members, it plans to give every single present away.The Angel Tree, a giant Christmas tree glittering in the lobby of the Catholic church and covered with tags representing children and adults in need, has been a tradition for a number of years among its religious education students. In 2001, it became a parish-wide activity, greatly increasing the number of gifts the church could provide.“It always surprises me,” said assistant youth director Cathy Kohlrust. “Each year, we put up more than 400 tags the weekend before Thanksgiving, and by the fourth Mass (of the weekend), we have to put up more tags.”Since 2001, the congregation has collected more than 700 gifts each December, with the total number of gifts rising steadily.“It grows by about 20 percent every year,” Kohlrust said, “yet we still don’t have any problem getting everything done ee This is a very generous parish. They’re really great people.”This year, Immaculate Heart of Mary will send the majority of the gifts to Bienvenidos in Santa Fe, helping 230 individuals celebrate the holidays. It will also send gifts to teachers at St. Francis of Assisi School, located in the tiny town of Lumberton, near the Colorado border.The church forged a connection with the school during a youth ministry trip to Dulce.“We asked the principal if he had any needs, and he gave us a wish list,” Kohlrust said. Items like printer cartridges, clay and glitter glue topped the list.Members of the congregation participate on many levels, she said. Not only do they purchase gifts – four per tag, with gifts often costing as much as $35-40 – teen members of the youth ministry prepare the tags, sort the gifts and move the gifts to a secure location as they come in.Everything will be sent out after Dec. 9.“We make sure each person we have a request for has gifts,” said Kohlrust, who also participates on the giving end, with her “very enthusiastic” husband.“There’s a joy in knowing you’re making somebody’s life a little brighter,” she said.Congregation member Faye Brown also buys presents every year to leave beneath the Angel Tree.“I think most of us have a little bit of money – and two cars, plenty of skis. I want to give to other people, no matter what,” Brown said. “This is very important. There are so many people out of work in northern New Mexico.”She added that last year, “trillions of things” were donated, and that this year, “it looks like there will be more than trillions.”Mary Lou Keigher has already dropped off a couple of the gifts she plans to buy this year – a set of pajamas and a doll from CB Fox. Like many congregation members, she appreciated knowing details about the gifts’ recipients, as described on the tags.“I got babies,” she said. “Little ones.”The Rev. John Carney said knowing the age, size and, when possible, the favorite color of the individual makes buying the gift more precious. He said one year he purchased a purse for a 65-year-old woman, and thinking about this woman reminded him of his mother.Although his mother had died, he said, “it was like buying a purse for my mom.”He added, “It’s an amazing thing ee to have an opportunity to reflect on a child in need,” said the Rev. John Carney. “Our people are blessed greatly by the experience.”