Base generosity on display during Angel Tree program

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Joe McFadden
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
For many children, the holiday season is a time marked by days off from school, visits with Santa Claus and, perhaps most importantly, the presents that await them under the tree. However, there are circumstances where some children may not be able to receive what they most want on their wish lists.

And with this being the Year of the Air Force Family, organizations like Hurlburt Field's Angel Tree program placed an extra emphasis on making sure every Air Force child's holiday wishes came true.

The Angel Tree program is an annual charity drive designed for children in need to receive toys during the holiday season. The process starts with children filling out wish lists and placing them on a tree outside the base exchange. Interested people grab a tag, purchase items on the list and return the gifts in a box near the tree throughout December. Lastly, volunteers wrap and deliver the gifts to children.

Second Lt. Theresa Jones, 1st Special Operations Component Maintenance Squadron, served as this year's program coordinator for the first time.

"This was a great opportunity to show how we can help our Airmen," she said. "We saw a need and did whatever we could to help them."

After collecting the children's wish lists, Lieutenant Jones worked with the First Sergeants Council and the Company Grade Officer's Council to collect and distribute the gifts to the children. She said the hardest part was simply getting the word out, which included using e-mails, posters and the base marquee.

Other organizations were also eager to help the Angel Tree program. Ronald Rowan, 505th Training Squadron, is a volunteer with his squadron's booster club. At the end of the program, they purchased the gifts on the remaining wish lists.

"We do what we can for every child," he said. "Our primary goal is for everyone to have something under the tree."

Mr. Rowan said his club and the C2 Warrior Fund raised more than $4,000 intended for presents and clothes for 71 children at both Hurlburt Field and Eglin Air Force Base. He said Lieutenant Jones' direction of the program was a great success.

"She went above and beyond what was expected and ensured that all kids were taken care of this year," Mr. Rowan said.

At the program's end, several presents including bicycles, dolls, building blocks and video games were collected. Lieutenant Jones counted 1,041 gifts that totaled more than $11,000 for 173 Hurlburt Field children.

"On the very last day, a lot of people were trying to get that one last gift in," she said. "I was blown away by the outpouring of generosity from our base."

The gifts filled the entire mobility bay at the 1st SOCMS. Lieutenant Jones and 18 fellow CGOC volunteers spent six hours wrapping the presents before they were given out to children on base.

But the donations did not stop there. During the final week, a group from the Destin American Legion heard about the program and offered to send gifts.

"That was truly wonderful, we received a huge carload of toys," she said.

Although it was past the program's deadline, the donations were given to the Salvation Army's local Angel Tree program and the Fort Walton Beach Boys & Girls Club's fifth annual Luces Navideñas celebration.

Lieutenant Jones sent her thanks to all those who donated to this year's program.

"This was an awesome project that showed the generosity of Team Hurlburt during the Year of the Air Force Family. Growing up in a military family, I know how much that is appreciated."