Liberty Hill spreads holiday spirit through Angel Tree
By Christine Bolaños
A grandmother raising five children realizes she can’t afford to get them gifts for Christmas. A wife recently lost her job and now her family depends solely on her husband’s income. Christmas gifts cannot be a priority under these circumstances.
A family is recently heartbroken over the loss of a parent and the surviving spouse is forced to cope with a holiday alone with the children. There is no room left in the budget for Christmas presents this year.
This is where Liberty Hill’s Angel Tree comes in. It is a program that gives donors the opportunity to fulfill a child’s Christmas wish and lift the burden from their parent or guardian who cannot do so themselves this year.
The way it works is that a donor picks an angel ornament from an angel tree. Each ornament lists a child’s age, size and greatest wishes for that child.
“The gifts this year will all be unwrapped,” said Jamie Etzkorn who is coordinating the event this year. “If members do not want to ‘adopt’ a child but want to help in some way they can donate wrapping paper or tape or bows. This way the family of the children can wrap the gifts if they want to.”
She said unwrapped gifts sometimes are easier for recipients to handle.
“Members of the community can also make a monetary tax-deductible donation to Operation Liberty Hill just in case some angels aren’t adopted,” Etzkorn said. “Anything is really appreciated.”
She said the program aims to help families who are disadvantaged or facing some kind of hardship this holiday season.
“Maybe Christmas wouldn’t be as spectacular because of those situations,” Etzkorn explained. “This program allows those children to have a Christmas they would not otherwise have because of the hardship or difficult situation.
“I have some families that have lost a mom or dad and of course there are single mothers,” she said. “Some of the notes I have received have been from grandmothers raising grandchildren. Some have a mom or dad that doesn’t have a job.”
In addition to pairing children with gifts through the Angel Tree program, each family also receives a food box from Operation Liberty Hill.
When going through the program applications, she said gratitude and appreciation was a common theme.
As coordinator of the program, Etzkorn made sure to get the forms out to Liberty Hill schools. The school counselors distributed those forms to the students. Operation Liberty Hill also worked with its clients on its end.
“All forms come back to me and I create the angels and make the contacts with the people to get the angels adopted,” she explained. “I coordinate drop off and pick up for people that are adopting and the people receiving the gifts.”
Several Liberty Hill churches, organizations and individuals are involved with the cause. Some churches have “adopted” multiple children.
Churches that have adopted multiple children — some as many as 50 — include Fellowship Church, Grace Alive, Liberty Hill United Methodist, The Grove, LifeSprings, Capstone and Peace Lutheran Church.
She said the high school and junior high school are also involved with the program.
“Some of the school groups are Ms. Havens’ two STRIVE classes and the National Junior Honor Society at the junior high,” Etzkorn said.
High school groups include student council, National Honor Society, Key Club and a leadership class. While the deadline for recipients has passed, donors can adopt an angel through Dec. 17.
“They do not have to reside in Liberty Hill,” Etzkorn explained. “As long as they meet the drop off deadline they can be from anywhere.”
Recipients all reside within the Liberty Hill ISD.
Children’s wishes range from Barbies and bikes to tablets and laptop computers. Their needs include items such as jackets and blankets.
“I do have a couple that need beds,” Etzkorn shared. “A lot of children are saying that they need books, which I think is great. In my mind that’s a need.”
Though it is her first time handling the Angel Tree program in Liberty Hill, Etzkorn is not new to the experience. She recalls being involved with the program alongside her mother while in high school.
“Seeing the gratitude and the thankfulness from not just the children but the grandparents really touched me,” she remembered. “I want to give back to people as much as I can.”
Drop off for families adopting is scheduled from 3-6 p.m. at the Grace Alive Church gym in Liberty Hill. Pick up is the next day at the same place from 1-3 p.m.
Etzkorn said the program is serving 90-92 families this year — a number she believes surpasses other years. She is quick to say she cannot do it all on her own. In addition to the donors there are a number of individuals helping out including the Liberty Hill Christmas Festival Committee and The Grove Church’s Heather Johnson and Ally Curry.
Etzkorn’s neighbor, Michelle Van Natter of Star of Texas Realty Group, helped finish making and filling out angels and helped Etzkorn get the trees ready for display at businesses around town. Van Natter is also a member of the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.
The trees are on display at the Law Office of Jamie Etzkorn, PLLC; Classic Bank, Liberty Hill Dental, First Texas Bank and A Texas Girl’s Guns, LLC.
The big Angel Tree will be put on display as usual at Santa’s Village this weekend. Johnson and Curry will be running the adoption tree at Santa’s Village from 3-5 p.m. Sunday.
Etzkorn said she also needs volunteers to help with drop off and pick up of gifts.
“This year I added them up and we’re going to have between 280-290 children,” Etzkorn said. “Only 210 of those have been adopted. I have full faith that every child will be blessed with what they ask for.”
That is why more donors are needed as well as wrapping paper, tape, bows and monetary donations to Operation Liberty Hill.
Though all the applications touch her heart the one that has stayed with Etzkorn the most is from a family who lost a parent.
“I don’t think the family was even going to apply but someone else reached out to them and told them this program would be for them and to please, please apply for the program,” she shared. “I think that touched me that that parent felt there were people more in need than them and didn’t want to take from that family. And that someone else reached out to them and told them, ‘this program is for you.’”
She believes that reflects the spirit of the season of giving.
“To me that embodies what this program is about,” Etzkorn said. “Putting others’ needs before your own.”
To get involved, contact Etzkorn at firstname.lastname@example.org.