The Angel Tree is a local partnership with Head Start to bring children in St. Peter, who might not receive many or any gifts, extra presents for Christmas. The Angel Tree, which was put up before Thanksgiving break, draws to a close on Dec. 13, 2023.
The Angel Tree has been a tradition at Gustavus since 1997, started by former Peer Assistant, Kate Reuer ‘99. The tree, which sits in the lower level of the Jackson Campus Center, outside of the Community Engagement Center, is decorated with tags that outline the wishlists of the children who are partnered with Head Start. Coordinator and Senior Eavan McCormick explained that they begin compiling the wishlists in November. The tags are then taken by Gustie staff and students to fulfill and return. This year, presents are required to be returned by Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023.
McCormick’s job is then to sort the gifts by family and meet with a Head Start member who will deliver the presents. Shelby Simonette is a coordinator from Head Start who connects the families with the tags.
“I reach out to the families in my program and they let me know if they are in need of support in providing presents for their family,” Simonette said.
Head Start is a program that works with income-eligible families to promote school readiness of their children. According to the Director of the CEC, Amy Pehrson, “Head Start leads the early childhood field with a strong, clear, and comprehensive focus on healthy child development.”
Furthermore, Pehrson outlined the program’s role in fostering familial relationships and connections to peers and the St. Peter community.
The Angel Tree will provide 63 children within the St. Peter community with Christmas presents this year. Simonette provided the meaningful impact it has on the families that receive the gifts.
“Angel Tree has helped our family be able to provide so much for Christmas celebration with the kids. It has helped us have less stress when it comes to having to choose between a gift under the tree of bills paid and food on the table. We are so grateful for those that help give to others during the Christmas season” a Head Start parent said.
All of the Angel Tree tags have already been taken this year. However, Gusties are still welcome to donate cash or checks, which can be made out to Pehrson in the CEC.
McCormick reflected on the importance of giving in daily life and community. “I believe that the role of giving in daily life is important, whether it is through large or small acts. I think that even small acts can go a long way…Over time, small acts of kindness can lead to large impacts,” McCormick said.
Simonette also commented on the impact and value that giving has, not just on the recipient. “[We] recognize the good we can put back into the world by helping others. Giving often not only fills the hearts of those receiving, but can be a wonderful feeling for those giving from their heart,” Simonette said.
Similarly, Pehrson illustrated that it is one’s civic responsibility to look after those in need. She explained how there are some Gusties who have wanted to be the first on the list to give.
“These are stories of the people who make the Angel Tree a success and truly a community event here at Gustavus,” Pehrson said.
McCormick expressed thankfulness for all Gusties who participated in the program this year.
Thus, the tradition not only encompasses an aura of giving but of gratitude as well from both the families and the coordinators.
“The program has been an amazing success and is very appreciated by the families…We’d like to thank Eavan for all of the work she has contributed to organizing the program the last couple years. The time and dedication has made a huge impact for Head Start families,” Simonette said.
McCormick and Simonette both identified the important role that the Gustavus Angel Tree plays in the context of the broader St. Peter community.
“We like to think of it as making Christmas a little brighter for these children,” McCormick said.
As the Christmas season, finals, and Winter Break draws nearer, Gusties are encouraged to reflect and give back in whatever way they can, showing up authentically.