No child who celebrates Christmas should wake up on December 25th and find no gifts under the tree. Creating an angel tree is one simple way to help make sure the low-income people in your community have a very merry Christmas. Churches, businesses and community organizations often establish angel trees to collect gifts for kids of all ages as well as entire families or vulnerable adults.
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How an Angel Tree Works
The concept behind an angel tree is simple. The organizer sets up a real or artificial Christmas tree in a central location. For example, in a business, the tree might be set up next to the front door or in the break room. Paper tags are hung from the branches. Each angel tree tag generally represents a local child, adult or family in need. Recipients might include low-income seniors or people living in shelters.
Anyone who wants to can go to the tree to pull off a tag, which should include a few details about the intended recipient. The gifter buys at least one item for the person or family on the tag and returns the gift to the angel tree by a certain deadline so it can be wrapped and distributed. Angel trees differ from toys drives, like Toys for Tots, because each gift is purchased with a specific person in mind.
Planning an Angel Tree
There are some logistical questions to settle before creating an angel tree. Most importantly, for whom are you going to collect gifts, and how will you know what items those recipients would want to receive? How far before Christmas should gifts be returned to the angel tree?
Gifters are generally asked not to wrap items, which lets the organizer verify that everyone is getting an appropriate present. Will you be wrapping the gifts yourself? What will you do if some tags are left on the tree or if people take tags but don't buy gifts? Do you want to add a fundraising component so people who don't want to shop for gifts can donate money instead, which you can use to buy gifts for unfilled tags?
Try coordinating with a local charity or community organization to find recipients in need. Salvation Army locations around the United States organize angel trees each year, working directly with local families to identify people who would otherwise receive few or no gifts on Christmas. Businesses and other groups may be able to apply to host a tree; this varies by location. You can reach out directly to a local group that works with low-income families or homeless populations to ask about hosting a tree for the people it serves. In this case, you'll need someone from the organization to provide you with some information about the people for whom you're collecting gifts.
The Salvation Army creates tags for its angel trees, which makes hosting one of its trees easy, but if you're organizing your own tree, you'll need to create sturdy paper tags with a few key pieces of information. At a minimum, angel tree tags or angel tree labels include the age and gender of the recipient(s). They may also include a few things on the person's wish list as well as clothing sizes in case gifters want to buy cozy pajamas or other wearable items.
Include a gift drop-off deadline at the top of each tag along with a request that the tag be taped to the unwrapped gift. This lets you keep track of which gift is intended for which recipient. Maintain a careful list of all the angel tree labels you create so you can keep track of which gifts have been purchased. Print the angel tree labels on card stock. Punch a hole in the top of each one and hang it from a loop of ribbon on your angel tree.
Organizing an Online Angel Tree
A traditional angel tree only works if people are in proximity of the physical tree. Maybe your workplace has gone remote, and co-workers aren't in the office to pull tags from a real angel tree, or you want to organize an online angel tree with your extended family. With an online angel tree, donors can chip in from anywhere.
There are a lot of ways to set this up depending on how many people are involved. In some places, the Salvation Army offers a virtual angel tree program, or you may work with a local charitable organization to create a list of needy recipients and then spread the word that people should email you to get a random assignment if they want to participate. Have gifters ship things directly to you so you can wrap everything and coordinate with the charity about distributing gifts just before Christmas.