A group of 30 children got an early start on Christmas as St. Mark United Methodist Church in downtown Clinton held its annual Angel Tree party for disadvantaged families.
The children, ranging from toddlers to pre-teens, gathered at the church to have cookies and other snacks, hear Pastor Dave Grant read the Christmas Story and – best of all – visit with Santa Claus.
The church uses a variety of sources including the schools and the church’s summer camp program to identify the families chosen to participate in the Angel Tree program, said church member Cindy McGhee, who has coordinated the event for the past 23 years.
Sponsored by the United Methodist Women, the Angel Tree program involves putting children’s names on angels on a Christmas tree at the church, then asking church members to choose an angel and provide gifts for the children on each one, McGhee said.
“Some of the families call us, some have been to our summer camp, and some names we get from the school,” she said. “We include all of the children in a family, even if there is a high school student. Most of the other programs like this cut it off after the sixth grade.”
As for the gifts, each child gets a new pair of shoes, a clothing outfit and a toy, and the gifts are handed out to each child by Santa during the annual Angel Tree Christmas party, McGhee said.
In addition, each family gets a certificate to redeem at the church for a “Christmas blessing basket” that includes all of the ingredients for a family breakfast and for a Christmas dinner – such as a ham and “all the trimmings,” McGhee said.
Kids also get “stockings,” which include “a throw to keep warm, a hat and gloves, and toys, like you would put in a Christmas stocking,” she said.
This year, the shoes were bought at a discount provided by the Shoe Show in the Tanner Place shopping center, and all the kids received brand-name shoes, McGhee said.
After Santa handed out the gifts, some of the children opened them at the party, while others took them home to wait for Christmas morning, McGhee said.
“Many of the children take the gifts home because that’s all they’ll have under their tree,” she said.
Santa Claus each year is played by Jimmy Young for the Angel Tree party, McGhee said. He’s also the Santa each year in the Clinton Christmas parade.
“These families are so grateful,” McGhee said. “And our church is just so blessed being able to do this.”