By Joel Phelps
An Arkadelphia nonprofit tasked with putting gifts under Christmas trees for underprivileged children has gotten more support than usual from the Clark County community.
With 248 Angel Tree recipients this holiday season, Junior Auxiliary of Arkadelphia will only be shopping for 40 of those children. On any given year, JA will shop for half of the kids whose parents are unable to provide, said Leslie Bohn, JA president.
This year, however, “we were extremely blessed” with those picking Angel Tree tags at either Walmart or The Gurdon Pharmacy, as residents helped to whittle the overall need of gift-buying.
Southwest Auto, Henderson State University Athletics and an anonymous donor pitched in this year to make sure JA had plenty. Southwest Auto bought for 40 children, and Henderson Athletics hosted a toy drive last week — those who brought a toy for Angel Tree were admitted to the game for free — that put two pickup truck loads full of toys, bicycles and play-sets in JA’s gift pile. JA will be using the anonymous $2,600 donation to purchase $25 gift certificates for local eateries to be included with each recipient’s gift bag.
“People are just feeling more helpful,” Bohn said. “Maybe the pandemic has made us realize life is short and not everybody is able to buy Christmas gifts for their families.”
Angel Tree is JA’s largest annual project, and it takes in about $20,000 from fundraisers throughout the year just for Angel Tree. Bohn said $70-$100 is spent on each child recipient of Angel Tree. “It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is,” Bohn said. “We supply clothing and one Christmas wish [for each recipient], and although it’s not meant to supply an entire Christmas for someone it helps to supplement what the parents are able to do.” Any funds not spent on Angel Tree gifts are saved for the next year.
To qualify as an Angel Tree recipient, one must be a recipient of DHS services and fill out an application. Once the application is accepted, the child’s wish is written on a tag, which is placed on the Angel Tree at the two locations in Clark County. For the tags that the public doesn’t fulfill, JA picks up the slack and shops for the remaining gifts. Once the shopping is done and all the gifts are compiled and sorted at First Presbyterian Church, post cards are mailed to recipient families explaining the pickup procedures.
Junior Auxiliary’s ultimate goal is to ensure that every child in Clark County has gifts under the tree on Christmas morning. For those who don’t qualify for Angel Tree, JA teams up with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, said Donna Watson Sparks, JA’s vice president.
Last year saw an unusually high amount of Angel Tree recipients, with 450 children on the list. “Last year was the most I’ve ever seen,” said Sparks who has volunteered for several years. An average holiday season sees 300 or so recipients, but what sets this year apart from others is the number of community shoppers who’ve taken the burden off of JA. “Angel Tree has been extremely blessed,” Sparks said.
Bohn thanked DHS for its time in verifying the information in each application, and to First Presbyterian Church for being the drop-off location for all the gifts. Echoing Sparks’ sentiment for the many blessings the community has given JA, Bohn added: “Clark County has really stepped up and shown out in a good way this year.”