Darren Doyle, story: photos submitted:
Edmonson County's Affordable Christmas Program, formerly known as The Angel Tree Program, has been completed for its first year and organizers say they are overwhelmed with not only the support of the event, but also the impact left on the local community.
"This was truly one of the most memorable experiences that I have had in FRYSC," said event coordinator Alicia Edwards, who is also the Family Resource/Youth Services Center Coordinator for South Edmonson and Kyrock.
The program was redesigned with the intent of bringing dignity back to families in Edmonson County that need a helping hand. It allowed participating families to pay a $5 fee per child and choose specific gifts that were assembled in the first-ever "store," prepared and run by volunteers, which was set up at the EC 5/6 Center.
Edwards said donations to this year's program exceeded expectations, as there were several unknowns going into this year with all the changes put in place.
"The donations were astounding," she said. "With the community's contribution of gifts and monetary donations and the wonderful surprise matching contribution from Alford's Pharmacy, it surpassed all of our expectations. It is humbling to witness how much our little community supported this program in its 1st year. Overall, the total sum of contributions outperformed our expectations for this initial year."
Edwards said the FRYSC has received nothing but positive feedback from the participating families and community members who volunteered. She noted that many families said they were thankful to be able to pay for and select their family's presents, and they were also given the opportunity to wrap those presents.
She shared one of those comments from a parent who participated:
“I think it was great. The volunteers and workers made me feel like I was a person. Sometimes when I attend a low income function I feel like people are judging me, I never felt that not one time at affordable Christmas. It was wonderful picking gifts that I wanted for the kiddos. Everyone was very very helpful and seemed to be enjoying themselves too," said one parent. "I was kinda shocked by the quantity of stuff, I am so proud to be from this little community. You ladies at FRC worked so hard and it really really showed. I just really feel like all the families involved kept their dignity and a lot of kids are gonna have a present under the tree thanks to this program."
Families that brought their children to the event were treated with crafts, snacks prepared by the EC Homemakers, and Santa and Mrs. Claus made an appearance for photos and fun. Several families later sent messages sharing how excited they were about this program and some families even included pictures of wrapped presents under their Christmas trees.
"Overall, we couldn't be more pleased with the success of Affordable Christmas in this transitional year, Mrs. Edwards said. "Our goal for this program was to empower families to be able to fully participate in all aspects of the Christmas shopping experience. That goal was fully realized. We were equally humbled by the outpouring of individuals who have volunteered throughout the last couple of months to purchase gifts, sort and transport those gifts, and setup the 5/6 Center for this event the night before."
She also said it would be difficult to name each person or organization that helped with the event, due to the amount of support that was received, but that a thank-you luncheon is being planned to show appreciation for all those that lent a helping hand.
"Overall, we had over 60 volunteers from the community on the day of the program to give of their time to make this program a huge success," she added. "As with any of our programs we couldn't have been successful without our dedicated staff from FRYSC, our families, and the staff from the schools that we serve."