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Angel Tree On the side of angels

December 19, 2018

GREENWICH — “This brings them joy, and that’s the most important thing,” Amy Portilla said as she arrived at Greenwich Town Hall with her excited 2-year-old daughter Abril to pick up presents from the Angel Tree.

“Sometimes we are not able to give them the things we want to — and this is a big help,” Portilla said.

The Meeting Room at Town Hall was transformed into something out of Santa’s workshop on Tuesday as volunteers filled it wall to wall with gifts for needy kids in Greenwich.

In a tradition that dates back a quarter century, the town Department of Human Services sets up the Angel Tree so its clients can enjoy holiday gift-giving. The decoratively wrapped packages contain everything from the hottest toys of the season to new winter clothes.

“It’s gotten bigger and bigger and bigger through the years,” said Alison Brush, community gifts program coordinator for the Department of Human Services. “We’ve had so many people involved. This program is sort of infectious. People love this. Once folks see what’s going on, they want to be involved. People get a lot of satisfaction out of this because they know they’re getting something specifically for a child.”

The need has grown over the years, Brush said, and fortunately so has the response from donors. In 2018, a record 223 families benefited from the Angel Tree program, with nearly 400 kids total. More than 750 gifts were donated.

“That is the most we’ve ever had,” Brush said. Many got more than one gift, usually clothing and a toy. And while toys are always popular, the main priority is to make sure the kids get the clothing they need, she said.

In the familiar holiday tradition, the department’s case workers put together lists of what their clients need. Those lists are collected by Brush and her team, and delivered to the donors, who act as Santa for the families. The donors purchase the needed items and wrap them up beautifully.

The gifts — tagged for each family by their secret Santa — were distributed Tuesday afternoon as the residents stopped in for the holiday cheer.

Tho donations came from all over the community, both from individuals and from groups such as First Presbyterian, St. Barnabas and St. Paul’s. The Greenwich Municipal Credit Union took on the largest number of wish lists, Brush said. And there was also critical help from the Members Credit Union, the Salanh hair salon, the Travel Exchange and Craig Friedman and his family, who not only donated but also volunteered their time. A new business — Westchester Laser Associates — also joined the list of donors.

“When they see a request that a little boy in town needs a winter coat, they can make it happen and that’s wonderful,” Brush said. “I have folks tell me that if it weren’t for this program and our toy distribution, they wouldn’t have anything to put under the tree. It really is very important for families. It’s hard this time of year.”

Brush and her team, which is made up of both department employees and volunteers, take care of all the details to make sure the families get the right gifts.

“I love having the ability to help others,” said Fernando Ruiz, an 18-year volunteer. “Once you help someone else, they will hopefully be able to do the same for someone else. This is a way for people to know there is someone to come to. We’re a part of this community.”

Angelique Keys, in her third year as a volunteer, said she grew up in Greenwich without a lot. She would have loved an Angel Tree as a kid.

“It’s good to be able to help people out who otherwise wouldn’t be able to get this,” Keys said. “It costs a lot of money to get presents during the holiday season. As I grew up, I didn’t have this and didn’t have people to help me get stuff like this. Now that I have jobs I can get involved and give back. It makes it special.”

Throughout Tuesday afternoon, a steady stream of grateful people came into the Meeting Room.

“It’s great to help parents get something for their kids,” said Jessica Burick, who picked up gifts for her children, 12-year-old Raymond and 3-month-old J’Aniah. “I want them to have something for them to open so they don’t feel left out. I want them to know somebody loves them and cares.”

kborsuk@greenwichtime.com

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