By: Tammy Curtis, Managing Editor
There are definitely angels among us, even if they come bearing gifts and dressed as elves. Four women with 97 years of combined service to the community now spend countless hours serving the needy in the area through the establishment of the Sharp County Angel Tree Program.
Selena Carter, Donna Cruse, Joyce Snearly and B.J. Martin, are all retired Department of Human Services (DHS) employees. So, to say they have seen a lifetime of need, is an understatement.
Before the program was officially established as a 501C3 non-profit, DHS handled the angel tree applications and distribution. Selena Corter, who was the previous administrator at DHS received a call in 2021 that DHS was no longer able to oversee the program. Cruse said Corter then called her and asked if she would like to join her and work with the program. The two ladies took over the program, established a 501C Non-Profit status and recruited fellow DHS retires Joyce Snearly and BJ Martin. The ladies then dove into the yearlong work of being angels to the children of Sharp County.
In just the two short years since its establishment, the program has expanded and is able to not only collect donations all year, but was also blessed with a place to store the donated items.
This year on Dec. 15, the ladies were at the Hardy branch of FNBC bright and early to begin their mission of distributing gifts, personal care items and much more to 198 children in Sharp County.
While DHS still accepts and screens the applications, the rest of the organization of the program is up to the group. After children are determined eligible by meeting the income guidelines of being at poverty level or below, their age and wish list is posted on paper angels with a number that allows the group to know which child the gifts belong, are hung on Christmas trees within banks and businesses in the community. Residents who wish to help then select angels and purchase gifts for the children. The unwrapped gifts with the number are then returned to the drop off location for the group of women to begin checking off their lists.
As the gifts come in, the ladies have already placed numbers on the floor in the back storage area at FNBC in Hardy and begin putting the gifts in large trash bags on the numbers. The makes pick up easier bc each family has a number.
Like the elves they were dressed as on distribution day, they check off the list to make sure each child within families receives about the same number of gifts. If anything is missing, the ladies have a massive room of excess items donated by Nate’s Auction, Dollar General and other locals and businesses to pull from.
“This year we had a six-month-old baby. They only got diapers and clothes. We added to the gift. The monetary donations allow us to do that,” Cruse explained.
One of the new items the ladies were able to add this year with the monetary help from the community was stockings and extra gifts for teenagers. “Parents receive a stocking for each child they can fill and Kerry Wayne Evans donated toothbrushes.”
The year long monetary donations also allow the ladies to shop after Christmas clearance sales for gifts for the next year.
Because Sharp County is at 70 percent or above poverty level, there are several groups who, like Sharp County Angel Tree, work all year to serve families. The ladies collaborate with the Highland Elks Lodge and Sharp County Shop with a Cop and combine their lists, so families all are served but not duplicated.
The lobby at FNBC was full as the families came to pick up their children’s gifts. The ladies work together to make sure the items go to the right families. After providing a photo identification, one of the elves checks off the list and hands the guardian a stocking for each child to fill while another elf gets the bag of gifts from the back room. The operation ran very smoothly.
“I have cried many tears over this,” Donna said. She recalled working for DHS and during her third year, she received a letter days after Christmas from a lady and told them her kids didn’t get anything for Christmas because they couldn’t afford it. “I cried like a baby. After that, I said, we are going to make sure they do from now on. So, we have expanded it.” This year, besides the stockings, the program was able to provide 25 coats for foster children. They also received $20 food cards from the Salvation Army. “I never knew that it really came home,” Cruse said of the organization that begins their bell ringing campaign early in the holiday season. Every family receiving the gifts was also given the food cards. In addition, an anonymous individual donated $500 for the program to purchase food cards from Harps. Despite the recession, Sharp County stepped up to the plate more than ever, as they always do, to help those in need in the true spirit of Christmas. The amount of toys and personal items flowing from the back room and storage area at the bank that was donated was unbelievable.
Anyone wishing to donate funds for next year’s event can provide monetary donations all year long in the Sharp County Angel Tree account at any FNBC location.