Hanging on a Christmas tree in the middle of the Bank of the West branch in Newton is an angel ornament with a simple request. All one 63-year-old woman wants this Christmas is gift cards — so she will be able to purchase groceries.
Each Christmas season, such ornaments are hung on businesses around town — at Bank of the West, CC's Family Hair, both Dillons locations and Hendrickson Chiropractic — broadcasting similar wish lists as part of Safehope's angel tree project. The project is intended to help provide gifts for victims of sexual and/or domestic violence and their families that the organization serves.
This year, both Bank of the West and Safehope have noticed collections are coming in a little slower than normal — something both organizations hope to turn around as the date of distribution rapidly approaches on Dec. 14.
"If every tree is as slow as mine right now, how many kids that really truly need it aren't going to get something this year? That's my fear," said Bank of the West branch manager Brian Donley.
Bank of the West has been helping with the Angel Tree Project for the past four years, according to Donley. It was seen as a way to help the community and friends of the bank who worked at Safehope and Emberhope, which does a similar project to help the at-risk youths it serves — usually with no issues getting gifts for the families and children represented on the bank's angel tree.
"Last year, we had a lady with two little girls who drove all the way down from McPherson because they read about it in The Kansan and said, 'Hey, we want to do something to help,' " Donley said.
Also in 2018, the gifts collected for Bank of the West's angel tree nearly filled its break room to the point that you almost couldn't enter it. Currently, the bank has a sparse collection of gifts that fit fully under its tree with room to spare.
Whether because the displays went up later this year or because of less word-of-mouth awareness, neither Donley nor Safehope community engagement coordinator Chris Allen are sure why collections have been slower, but there certainly is not a lack of angel tree wish lists.
Safehope gets gift requests from each of the victims and their family members electing to participate in the project, which are then printed on the angel ornaments that go on trees around the community. Last year, that included 46 families. That number has grown to 76 families — including 130 children — in 2019, another factor that may be contributing to the current progress level.
"We have a lot more participants this year because we opened up offices in McPherson and Marion, so we're getting participants from there," Allen said. "Also, this year, the resiliency center is included in that."
Opening of those additional offices means trees in additional communities as well, including the Dillons in McPherson and Whitestone Mennonite Church and AGCO in Hesston. Still, there are more families in need with wish lists yet to be filled — including some that have not been able to go up on any of the angel trees in the area.
Each list features some clothing and personal needs, as well as Christmas wishes, for all family members. Reading those lists can put priorities into perspective, as Donley has looked over plenty of the lists on his bank's tree — whether it's a child asking for shoes for school or another just wanting something for his mom.
"That tears you up," Donley said. "I don't care if I have to personally deliver them the day before Christmas; as long as somebody brings it in, I'll get it to where it's supposed to go."
Pushing the deadline has been discussed, but for now Allen noted distribution remains scheduled for Dec. 14 — and there are still several families in need.
Safehope's Angel Tree Project is something that could not be done without community support. Those interested in getting involved can call Safehope at 316-283-0350 or stop by the office at 316 Oak Street in Newton. It's something Donley and his employees will continue to do and he encourages others to consider.
"I don't care if you spend $5 and you buy a couple toys from Dollar General or Dollar Tree. A kid's not going to care," Donley said. "Do what you can because what to you and me might not be a huge deal, this would change the entire outlook a kid will have on Christmas."