In a program on the Angel Tree project presented recently to the Rotary Club of Arkadelphia, Lori Ross, a commercial lender at Southern Bancorp, startled her fellow Rotarians when she said the program this year will reach out to 614 children in Clark County.

In a program on the Angel Tree project presented recently to the Rotary Club of Arkadelphia, Lori Ross, a commercial lender at Southern Bancorp, startled her fellow Rotarians when she said the program this year will reach out to 614 children in Clark County. In her own words, here is a profile of the program and why the Angel Tree program is so important.
• Angel Tree locations: “We have two trees set up at Wal-Mart, one at each entry. We also have a tree set up at Brookshires.”
• Tag selection: “Walk into any of the stores that have the Angel Trees and look at the tags. You may choose a female or a male, a particular age, etc. On the card will be the child’s age, a ‘needs’ list  (clothing and shoe sizes, etc.) and a ‘wish’ list. At the bottom of the card are instructions for the drop-off locations and times of operation.”
• What you do when you adopt an angel: “You are committing to purchase the gift or gifts for that Angel and to drop off the gifts at specified location and time. For each person that has a tag on the tree, we maintain the list to make sure that gifts come in for that Angel. We do not, however, keep up with the persons who buy for the Angels.”
• Sponsorship: “The local Angel Tree project is sponsored by the Junior Auxiliary Club of Arkadelphia for the purpose of improving the lives of children in Clark County. We do this through various projects throughout the year, but the biggest project that we do is the Angel Tree project to provide Christmas gifts to children from low-income families.”
• How the local program began: “The Angel Tree program in Clark County started as a Department of Human Services program, which about 10 years ago asked the Arkadelphia Junior Auxiliary to take over the project.”
• How children are selected for the program: “We send the Angel Tree applications to teachers and counselors in the school districts throughout Clark County. Also, we coordinate with the Department of Human Services (DHS), which also makes recommendations. The teachers, counselors and DHS get the applications out. All applications have to be approved by the DHS before they are accepted by our organization. So on their applications, DHS will mark whatever government assistance the applicants currently receive and return the applications to us. The income criteria-the government assistance programs-are not monitored by Junior Auxiliary.”
• Eligibility requirements: “The children range from birth up through the age of 18, and if old enough must still be in school. If they have already graduated from high school, they will not be eligible.”
•  How many children have been served by the Junior Auxiliary? “During the first year, around 400 children were served. In 2010, we will reach out to 614 children in Clark County. Estimating that in each of the past 10 years, an average of at least 500 children were served … that amounts to an estimated total of more than 5,000 children.”
•  Example of a child’s reaction: “One story that comes to mind that still brings tears to my eyes when I think about it is the response we received from a boy last year. On the Angel Tree application he was given to select the needs of his family, such as clothing, and shoes, he skipped the toy wishes and wrote just one word on his ‘needs’ list: ‘food.’ That just broke my heart. The family who picked up his Angel tree application brought that child and his family a truck load of food. When the family realized how much they had been given, they were so moved that they were speechless. We touch so many lives through this project.”
• How much money has been  spent on presents? “There is no way I can say how many dollars were spent on these children because some people spend more than others. What is most important to me is that whoever takes time to pick up one of these applications will always try to meet the needs that are specified. If a child needs a coat or shoes, we want to make sure they get that. If there is enough left over to purchase the toys from the ‘wish list,’ that’s great. Unfortunately, there are so many kids in Clark County whose basic needs are not met.”
• Gift pick-up times: “Tuesday through Thursday, Dec. 14-16. If the parents or guardians are not able to pick up on any of those three nights, they can contact our chair, Paula Whittle, and she will designate a time to meet with the family. We also notify the parents of Angels of their designated times to pick up the gifts, which they must wrap themselves. That way we and the parents know what is being given.”
• What about applications that are not picked up? “The Arkadelphia Junior Auxiliary holds fund-raisers throughout the year. Our two largest fundraisers are the annual Charity Ball in the spring and the annual Bunko tournament in the fall. In addition to these two projects, we have a few other small fundraisers and we receive numerous donations from individuals and businesses. We raise money throughout the entire year and the Angels that are not adopted, we take that number of Angels and the money we have raised throughout the year, divide it up evenly and we go out to purchase what we can for them.”
• How much should be spent on gifts? “It’s up to the individual about how much they want to spend. Again, I want to stress how important it is to meet the basic needs. So on their ‘needs’ list, if someone wants a pair of shoes, a pair of socks and a coat, I would encourage the donor to purchase those items first. Then if they can spend a little more on ‘wish’ list toys, that’s wonderful. But we really want to make sure that the basic needs of the children are met. So it’s up to the individual to determine how much they are going to spend per child.”
• What if an eligible family does not receive an application? “We try our best to reach out to everyone in need but it is possible that we have missed some families in need that have not submitted applications for Angel Tree. We have to set deadlines so we have enough time to get the Angels out, give people an opportunity to adopt them and then have time to get the gifts. Next year, for example, they can contact their child's teacher or school counselor. If their child is not in school, they can contact DHS for an application around Nov. 1.”
• What Lori's involvement in the Angel Tree program has meant to her: “It’s really indescribable. My own Christmas gift is being able to work on the night of the pick-ups and just to see the expressions on the faces of the parents who pick up these gifts. They are so grateful and so humble…it is truly rewarding.”