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Hi-Line Living: 'Tis the season for The Angel Giving Tree


December 15, 2017

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Among the Christmas trees dispersed throughout Havre this holiday season are a select group of trees which could make a significant difference for some children this season.

Salvation Army's Angel Giving Trees give people a chance to anonymously buy gifts for children who may otherwise not receive any this Christmas.

Every year in Havre, between 80 and 90 children receive Giving Tree gift packages, Salvation Army Social Services Director Trina Crawford said. The children are brought to the Salvation Army's attention with the help of agencies that serve low-income families.

The Giving Trees are planted at The Key and Sears in the Holiday Village Mall, Kmart, Sally Ann's Thrift Store and the Salvation Army Emergency Service Office.

People who would like to help can pick a tag, which lists the child's sex, age, a toy suggestion, and shirt, pant and coat sizes, and then buy the child's gift items. The Giving Tree is for children newborn to 13 and the tags are specific to children who have been registered in the program. The registration deadline for 2017 has passed.

After the gifts are bought, they are brought to the Havre Salvation Army Emergency Services Office, where volunteers will organize the gifts into bags and label them to ensure the gifts are matched with the correct child.

The Giving Tree program, formerly called the Angel Tree, is nearly four decades old. It was created in 1979, by the promptings of Majors Charles and Shirley White when they worked with a Lynchburg, Virginia, shopping mall to give clothing and toys to children for Christmas.

The program got its name because the Whites wrote the children's gift wishes or needs on Hallmark greeting cards with pictures of angels. They put the cards on a Christmas tree at the mall to give shoppers a chance to provide for children who wanted help.

Last year, the program served about 20,000 children across the Intermountain Division, according to salvationarmyusa.org. The goal for 2017 is to serve 25,000 children.

Gift distribution day in Havre is Dec. 20. Each parent is given a time slot to pick up gifts. Parents also receive wrapping paper and tape.

By Tuesday, the Havre Giving Tree storage room already had a mound of plastic bags filled with gifts. Crawford, along with any volunteer help she can scrounge up, work tirelessly - if previous years is any indicator - to prepare for distribution day.

Crawford shared a story she said accurately embodies what it's like to administer the Giving Tree program.

"Years ago, a young man, a college student, volunteered during Christmas break because he needed to do some community service time. He helped me do a lot of the Giving Tree," Crawford said.

The young man worked alongside Crawford day and night.

"This was a year we got way behind, and I ended up staying till midnight trying to get everything for the giveaway, and he stayed until 11 p.m. trying to help," she said.

The next day was giveaway day. Because it goes by quickly, it allows for a lot of waiting periods in between, Crawford said.

"His body language was saying that something was wrong, something was going on," Crawford said of the young man.

So she asked him what was wrong and he told her.

"He says, 'I just don't know why. You put so much work into this. They don't have a clue. Not one person has said thank you.'"

Crawford said she told the young man, "We're not here for thanks. We're here to provide, and if they want to say thanks, great. If they don't want to say thanks, that's between them and God."

Not too long afterward, it happened, the reason for the Giving Tree.

"So a lady came by and when she saw what we had for her family - it was the first time she'd ever been on a Giving Tree - she just burst out and started crying."

Crawford said she gave the woman a hug.

"I never expected my kids to have Christmas, let alone this," Crawford said the woman told her.

After the woman left, Crawford said she turned to the young man and said, "That's why I do it."

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

The first mission for Salvation Army, Crawford said, as a Christian organization, is to always remember that Christ is Christmas.

"When you look at why we celebrate Christmas, it's because He gave, because God gave to us. That's how the present thing came to us. Christ gave to show love to somebody else," Crawford said.

In spite of the commercialization of Christmas, it's important to remember what these gifts may mean to the children receiving them, Crawford said.

"These kids have never had new toys, never had new clothes," she said. "It's just nice to give a child something they normally wouldn't get. Yes, there are some families who maybe don't need it, but it's for that one woman who didn't think she was going to have Christmas for her kids."


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