The Athens County Children Services’ 29th annual Santa Tree Project provided 300 economically disadvantaged families in Athens County with gifts on Tuesday.
Local businesses, churches and individuals from the community donated gifts to provide for children with ages ranging from infants to teenagers. While Tuesday’s event reached out to 300 families, the entire project provides gifts for about 550 families, and 1,200 children in the county.
“It’s completely out of the goodness of people’s hearts that this happens every year,” said Robin Webb, the project’s coordinator and public relations and event coordinator at ACCS.
Families who either live at or below the federal poverty level could apply to participate in the project through ACCS. On the applications, the name, age, gender, clothing size and three wishes from the children are requested, and a number is assigned to the families for when they pick up their gifts.
Employees from ACCS and volunteers helped distribute gifts on Tuesday in a vacant room in The Market on State. At the front of the room, families lined up to give their names and the number they were assigned for the project. The number would then be called to the back of the room, where green and red bags stuffed with gifts sat with the families’ numbers waiting to be picked up.
Families could also select from books, stuffed animals, toothbrushes, clothing and other stocking stuffers provided at the front of the room to take home as gifts.
More than 100 local businesses and individuals directly requested the gift wishes from ACCS, and any remaining children’s names and gift wishes were hung as ornaments on a Christmas tree in The Market on State.
Anyone could come and grab the names from the Christmas tree and return the names with donated gifts for the children. This year, ACCS had 600 names that hung from the Christmas tree.
Every child who participates in the project receives at least one gift or more, depending on what items are on their wish lists.
“I’ve never had a year where they’re not taken,” Webb said.
If a name is taken but nothing is donated for the child, the agency makes sure to buy those children gifts.
Children could also sign up for the project through their ACCS caseworkers and through ACCS’s School Outreach Program. The entire project provided more than 1,200 children from 550 families in Athens County.
In addition to the community donations, ACCS received bikes from Bike Lady, Inc., a non-profit organization based out of Columbus that this year donated new bikes, locks and helmets to children in protective services across Ohio. Bike Lady donated 58 bikes between Meigs and Athens counties.
In addition to the Bike Lady donations, ACCS received bike donations from local community members as well. Webb said that if a child receives a bike, their siblings also receive bikes to keep it fair.
“We want harmonious, happy families,” Webb said.