MIAMI – This year the goal is something they want, need, wear and read.
Paper angels can only bring Christmas joy to Miami's children in need through the generosity and compassion of those who give. The Ottawa County Angel Tree program is a group effort of NEO A&M College, the Miami Police and Fire Departments and other area agencies with the goal for every child to wake up to a present on Christmas morning.
“Last year we helped around 500 families and close to 1,500 children, so there was quite a lot of need,” Miami Police Chief Thomas Anderson said. “We provide for the children of Ottawa County, not just Miami.”
Anderson said the local Fraternal Order of Police has been helping with the Angel Tree program for the past seven years and last year was the biggest year yet.
This year, due to some corporate rule changes, the Angel Trees are set up at different locations throughout Miami for the convenience of shoppers at Arvest Bank, Stage, Ace Hardware,Walgreens, in the Miami Civil Center lobby and several area churches and other locations.
The special Christmas Trees are covered in red and green slips of paper, each one representing the Christmas wishes and needs of an area child, from birth to age 17 years-old.
“Even though the trees aren't in their regular location, there are several trees out and about, and several businesses have let us put out trees,” Anderson said. “We have them throughout several businesses in town. Anybody who wants to get an angel and shop for a child or if they want to make toy donations, they can stop by and pick those up here at the police station and drop items off here also. The red and green tags on the trees give the age of the child, any special needs or wants, or sizes for clothes, and a little about their interests or what they want.”
Applications for assistance are still available in the lobbies of the Miami Police and North Miami Fire Station with an application deadline of Dec. 5, but organizers ask that the applications be filled out as soon as possible.
“They need to fill applications out as soon as they can and return those here,” Anderson said. “They will then be contacted with a pickup date and location the week before Christmas, and they must bring identification and must have custody or guardianship of the child.”
There's been a change in requests for gifts this year with a goal of providing four items per child for something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read.
“We did change our scope a little this year. It's a nice package of gifts and just helps families with Christmas,” Anderson said. “Even though we're trying to get four gifts for each child, if you pick up an angel, any donation is helpful. We don't want anybody not to pick up an angel because they can't do all four things. We will fill those in, everything is going to help us out.”
The organizers are asking donors to give what they are comfortable with and the rest will be provided by the program and community partners and supporters.
Once items are purchased the donations should be returned, unwrapped with the angel tag in a bag, to the Miami Police Department, located in the southwest corner of the Miami Civic Center, at 129 5th Avenue NW, by Dec. 9.
“The need keeps getting bigger and growing and we've tried to meet that need. So far, we haven't had to turn anybody away for lack of toys or volunteers,” Anderson said. “We've had great support from the community and we're just tickled to death by their support. We get a lot of community partners such as Buffalo Run and the Peoria Tribe, they helps us a lot. They do a toy drive for us and they've always been a great contributor.”
Many of the volunteers are the FOP members, police officers and their families.
“It's a lot of work, it's demanding on your time and schedule at a hectic time of year, but when it comes to the distribution days and the days when we're packing bags and getting ready, we have a lot of people show up to help. We see a lot of people in day to day life and deal with them many times under difficult circumstances – if we can help in any way we will. People see us sometimes in a bad light and we just want to give back to our community,” Anderson said. “We get some good help.The Police Chaplain Corps has volunteered to help. We've had several people from the City of Miami ask to help and get involved.”
The police chief said he is always impressed with how quickly any need is met by the community once it is known.
“You know, it was amazing last year. We had some special needs like a baby bed or highchair and we would put it out on Facebook and it seems like within an hour we had them at the warehouse. We were just absolutely amazed at the community response and we can't thank our community enough. It was such an incredible response,” Anderson said. “We were absolutely blown away by the community. They continue to support the program year after year. We're here to serve our community and that's what we want to do.”
Monetary donations can be mailed to Ottawa County Angel Tree, 200 I Street NE Box 3913, Miami, OK 74354. Checks should be made out to the NEO Development Foundation, with "Angel Tree" written in the memo line.
“If they want to make a monetary contribution, we will use it to shop for all the kids,” Anderson said. “The NEO Development Foundation takes in all the funds and keeps an accounting of all the funds. One hundred percent of all of the funds go right back to take care of the kids for Christmas.”
Money is used to fill the wish list of unadopted angels and the organizers shop locally when possible.
For more information call Angel Tree at 918-961-7707 or check on Facebook at Ottawa County Angel Tree