Angel Tree program provides gifts for local kids

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By Rachel Madison

Waking up on Christmas morning to find nothing under the tree is a heartbreaking situation for any child—one that Jamie Etzkorn can’t imagine. That’s why the local attorney and organizer of the Liberty Hill Angel Tree program makes sure the program happens every holiday season.

Each year, applications are sent out through the Liberty Hill Independent School District, as well as the local daycares, for families to fill out if they need help providing Christmas for their children. Children from ages 0 to 18 are eligible, and their age, clothing and shoe sizes, and greatest wants and needs for Christmas are included on angel ornaments typically found on trees set up throughout the community.

This year, a total of 79 families with about 240 children are available for angel adoption.

Etzkorn said local churches will have the opportunity to adopt angels first. This will occur on Nov. 19 during church services. Last year, there were no angels left over after churches had the opportunity to adopt them, so no trees were set up around town. However, Etzkorn said because there are more children to adopt this year than last year, she expects to set up a few trees after Thanksgiving. Those locations are to be determined; however, Liberty Hill residents will be able to get involved with the Angel Tree program at the Liberty Hill Christmas Festival, to be held Dec. 9 from 2 to 9 p.m. at Lions Foundation Park.

“We are going to light a pole at the trail of lights for Angel Tree,” Etzkorn said. “Also, there will be a drop off for unwrapped toy donations at that light pole by the information booth during the Christmas Festival for the Angel Tree. Santa will [also] be collecting unwrapped toys in the parade for the Angel Tree.”

Susan Baker, executive director at Operation Liberty Hill, said a lot of the Angel Tree recipients are also her clients. That’s why, in conjunction with the Salvation Army, Operation Liberty Hill will also provide each Angel Tree recipient’s family with a Christmas dinner box. The families will receive the boxes the same day they pick up their child’s Christmas gifts.

“The dinner boxes are full of special items my clients don’t normally get from the food pantry,” Baker said. “Things like coffee, flour, sugar, cookie mix, yams, marshmallows and hams.”

In addition to partnering with Operation Liberty Hill, the Angel Tree program also partners with The Williamson County Sheriff’s Office Brown Santa program, which provides assistance to families in Williamson County living outside the geographical city limits of any city within Williamson County that does not provide a similar program. Brown Santa donations are utilized to purchase toys, books and other items needed to make children’s Christmas brighter.

“Once we get all the applications in, we put them into a Google doc and share it with Brown Santa,” Etzkorn said. “This helps us to make sure no one is trying to play the system, but also Brown Santa is able to help us provide gifts if for some reason we aren’t able to help a family.”

The Angel Tree program is also partnering with the Liberty Hill Police Department’s Blue Santa program.

Liberty Hill Police Chief Maverick Campbell said the department started Blue Santa in 2016 and is looking forward to working with the Angel Tree program this year.

The police department is currently accepting new, unwrapped toys as well as gift cards and monetary donations at the Liberty Hill Police Station, Liberty Hill City Hall and Liberty Hill Municipal Court. In addition, Campbell is requesting that those who attend the police department’s monthly Donuts with the Chief event, to be held Dec. 14, bring an unwrapped toy, monetary donation or gift card. The location for the event is to be determined, but will be listed on the LHPD’s Facebook page before the event.

The Blue Santa program is not just about toys, Campbell said.

“If we get information that families are struggling with something like an electric bill, we’ll look at it by a case-by-case basis and try to accommodate and help the family with financial stresses they have,” he said.

Campbell added that the police department also plans on doing some kind of fundraising event during this year’s holiday season to raise more money for the Blue Santa program, but that event is yet to be determined.

Overall, Etzkorn said these programs have one main focus — the children.

“My happiest times as a child were around Christmas and being with my family,” she said. “I just want every child to have that experience. I can’t imagine not having that joy and excitement of waking up on Christmas morning knowing there are gifts under the tree. It’s all about the kids. I can’t imagine ever not doing this. I will get every angel adopted. There is no doubt. We will find a way. Christmas is too important to kids.”

Etzkorn added that the Angel Tree program is also a way for the community to bond.

“The Christmas Festival and the Angel Tree just bring the community together and it’s such a wonderful thing,” she said.

All Angel Tree gifts must be dropped off new and unwrapped with a roll of wrapping paper and tape. It is recommended to spend a minimum of $75 on each angel. Gift cards and monetary donations will also be accepted. Gifts must be delivered to Grace Alive Church’s main gym, located on the corner of County Road 277 and State Highway 29, on Dec. 15 between noon and 6 p.m. Families will pick up their gifts on Dec. 16.

For more information on how to adopt an angel or to help with sorting and distributing gifts, email LHAngelTree@gmail.com. To contribute to the Christmas dinner boxes, call Operation Liberty Hill at (512) 778-4175.

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