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For approximately 10 years, the parishioners of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church have made Christmas a happier time of year for children in the surrounding areas.
One way in which they make a difference is through the Angel Tree, a large Christmas tree that stands in the entrance of the church from Thanksgiving until the middle of December. Every year, approximately 1,000 tags are placed on the branches of the tree. The tags have a child’s age and gender and what they want for Christmas. Parishioners take as many tags off the tree as they like and purchase the appropriate gift.
Cathy Kohlrust, Youth Ministry assistant director, has been the Angel Tree organizer since 2006.
“It started out as just a ‘mitten and hat’ tree. People would come donate some clothes, etc. Then it turned into buying gifts for children and families,” Kohlrust said.
Since then, the tree has evolved into a way to help families who can’t afford to buy many Christmas gifts for their children. Kohlrust said requests for help have increased since the economy has worsened.
And with that increase, the catholic teens’ help is even more valued.
They help to make the tags, then help sort and bag the presents. They also help build the trailer that delivers the gifts to Santa Fe, Española and Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo.
The teens that help seem to enjoy what they do to make Christmas a happy holiday for children.
“It’s cool to help people that can’t afford presents this year,” Joe Roback said.
Jeremy McMillan finds that volunteering keeps him active. “Helping others is better than sitting around playing video games,” he said.
Another volunteer, Casey Aumack said helping out with the Angel Tree is a “wonderful way to spend Christmas.”
While David Murphy said, “Helping with this makes me feel good about myself.” His sister Julia agreed. “I like helping people in need, I feel like I’m Santa Claus,” she said.
Altogether, about 1,100 gifts were given and another 30 gifts went to a homeless shelter. Approximately $38,000 was spent on the Angel Tree gifts, while the teen volunteers worked roughly 300 hours.
“There is no way this could be done without the teens’ help,” Kohlrust said. Despite the work to prepare the gifts, all the teens agreed that spending the holidays helping the less fortunate is a great way to get into the spirit of Christmas.