Angel Tree Giving 101

‘Tis the season for abundant charitable giving. And for Angel Trees. For the uninitiated, Angel Trees appear this time of year in churches, shopping centers, civic spaces and other locations. They’re covered with tags containing the names, ages and desired items for those in need. Here, in this short blog is a foolproof guide at how to pass Angel Tree Giving 101.

What is my qualification to write such a doctrinal statement on giving well in regard to Angel Trees? I’m a foster parent and as such kids in our home periodically receive the blessings of Angel Tree gifts – well – mostly a blessing. Sometimes it’s a head-scratching failure. But, here’s how to win, not fail.  Ready?

  • Leave Some Tags.  When you start looking at the tags that adorn these trees, it’s easy to have a heartfelt impulse to pull every tag off the tree. Don’t. Don’t do that. Take one or two or just a few that you can actually fulfill well. What does that mean? Keep reading.  
  • Follow Through. Pulling a tag off a tree may give you a dopamine boost that you’re doing good for others. However, pulling the tag off the tree does exactly nothing for the child. Actually follow through – purchase, wrap and return the gift.  When you don’t, a child doesn’t receive a present. It’s that simple. If brother Johnny receives five gifts and sister Susy only receives two, that’s a problem and its usually a Christmas Eve (or close thereto) problem.
  • Read the Tag. I’m not talking gender norms for toys. But, if it’s for a 9–10-year-old please do not purchase a toddler toy, wrap it up and call your good deed done. Here’s a hint: most toys have a suggested age range. Most toy aisles have other parents. When in doubt- ask. And, if it’s for a teen, just go straight – don’t even think about it- go straight to the gift cards. (Unless the tag says no gift cards)
  • Bring Your Smarts. God gave you a really, really smart brain in your noggin.  If the tag says a child wants a basketball, trust me when I say that they do not want a 2-inch wide inflatable orange colored beach ball with lines painted on it that you’ve purchased at the $.99 + $.01 store. They want a basketball- like one you can play on a basketball court.   
  • Give Generously This isn’t the time to clean out your closet. The children receiving these gifts get second/thirdhand donations all year round. This is the one time of year where they expect (and deserve) something new. If they want the anime card set, they’ll know instantly if it was cobbled together with scratches and tears from the bottom of your child’s forgotten toy bin. And that is just super sad.  

And a bonus one: we will unwrap everything before the children see it, so don’t worry about your wrapping job. Why? First of all, points 3-5 above for starters. We’ve got to catch that mess before Christmas morning.

But, more importantly, we need to make sure there aren’t trauma triggers. The child who came into care for gun violence may not be able to handle the nerf gun that you purchased (that wasn’t on the tag by the way).  Social workers don’t have time to vet gifts and are hurriedly running out to distribute gifts and replace things that they happen to catch.

And yes, we’ve experienced all of these. Charitable organizations are stretched so thin that they are simply not able to catch any faux paux, by accident or laziness. They trust that you will approach the task with gusto and give it your best. Know that your contributions are highly valued and greatly appreciated.

Now that you’ve graduated Angel Tree 101, go forth and conquer. Make a child’s Christmas happier than ever. Be generous and bless the mess off of them. It will likely be the brightest spot in their lives for the entire year.

And before you go, one more thing. For extra credit. Go Beyond. Angel Trees are great at Christmas, but the need for foster children and others receiving aid stretch 365-days-a-year. Let this charitable exercise be your on-ramp to really jumping in and supporting your community. Don’t know where to start? Contact the agency/church sponsoring the tree and they’ll be happy to get you started.

Now, take a moment to share this post, to help others pass the class as well.

Go forth, remember what you learned, and have a Merry Christmas.

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