YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Organizers of an annual gift-giving program here said they hope to reach 300 children this year — especially children of deployed parents.
The Angel Tree program allows community members to purchase gifts to be distributed during the holidays to Yokota children.
Any child’s name may be turned in to receive a present, but the program primarily targets single-parent and large families, those experiencing financial difficulties and families with a deployed parent, said Barbara Lucy, Family Support Center family services coordinator.
This year, for the first time, the center is soliciting names of children from residents of the Yokota community at large.
“Last year, we just asked the first sergeants to give names of their members who met the criteria,” Lucy said.
The program helped 150 children last year but, Lucy said, some families with a parent deployed may have been overlooked. First sergeants sent e-mails to troops advising of the program but if a spouse was deployed, “the information never got back to the spouse at home,” Lucy said.
“This year, our goal is 300,” she said. “We have more parents deployed, so we’re trying to target those families as well.”
Often, a family may experience financial hardship or stress when a spouse is deployed, she said. Holidays are “supposed to be a joyful time. We’re trying to make it as joyous and stress-free as we can.”
One mother of five, who asked not to be identified, said the Angel Tree program has helped her family two years in a row. The family arrived at Yokota after Thanksgiving but gifts for their children bought in the United States didn’t make it in time for the holidays.
Her kids have received clothes, games and dolls, she said; her daughter still reads a stack of Winnie the Pooh books from the program.
“They still got to have a nice Christmas,” the mother said, noting that both years the family didn’t know they were selected as recipients.
“It’s always been a surprise,” she said.
The family in turn picks an “angel” from the tree to sponsor for the holidays, the mother said.
“When we buy for somebody else, it teaches” the children to have a giving spirit, she said.
How the Angel Tree works
People submit names of children through first sergeants or at bins in the east and west chapels on base and at Faith Christian Fellowship in Fussa through Nov. 21. Fill out gender, age, shoe and clothing size, favorite color and gift preference.
Volunteers — that’s anyone who wants to participate — pick a child’s name off the holiday tree in the Family Support Center lobby from Nov. 24 to Dec. 10. Children are assigned an alphanumeric code to protect their identity. Gifts must be turned in, wrapped and labeled, to the Family Support Center by Dec. 15. “You can spend as much as you want and buy as much as you want for your angel,” Lucy said. A monetary donation can also be turned in up until Dec. 15; Family Support Center staff and volunteers from the Yokota Singles Ministry will then do the shopping and wrapping.
First sergeants deliver the gifts starting Dec. 19.
“Myself and the first sergeants are the only people who know the names of the children,” Lucy said. “We don’t want a stigma attached to the families who are receiving gifts.”