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Angel Tree donors are given only the age and gender of selected children — names and units are not told to protect families involved in the program. Gifts are distributed to unit leaders for private disbursement right before the holidays.
Angel Tree donors are given only the age and gender of selected children — names and units are not told to protect families involved in the program. Gifts are distributed to unit leaders for private disbursement right before the holidays. (Jessica Iñigo / S&S)

DARMSTADT, Germany — Not all angels come with pristine halos and glowing auras. Some wear jeans and have little devils of their own.

Last year, Staff Sgt. Eric and Christie Reinhardt’s 1½-year-old couldn’t really get into the Christmas spirit. So Mom and Dad did something to pick up the slack.

The Reinhardts gave a needy child, who was the same age as their son, a toy truck for Christmas. This year they’ll do the same, but let Adrian, now 2½, pick out and give the gift.

“We think it’s an important thing to do, especially if it benefits other military family members,” Eric Reinhardt said.

“It’s a shame that there is such a thing as a needy family in the military. It’s hard to imagine, but it exists. Some military members in the States live so below the poverty line they have to be on food stamps. This helps make people aware of the problem and help out.”

The Holiday Sharing Program is in full swing at many military installations across Europe, helping to provide holiday niceties to military family members that would otherwise go without.

In Darmstadt, the Thanksgiving portion of the program collects monetary donations to provide selected families with commissary gift certificates.

“The certificates help let families choose how they want to celebrate the holidays,” said Renee Morris, Financial Readiness Program manager, who heads the Holiday Sharing Program along with Cutrice Harris at the Army Community Service center.

Other military installations accept food donations for Thanksgiving. But because of lack of storage space and shortage of manpower caused by deployments, the Darmstadt community asks that only funds be donated to the chapel.

Money for the Thanksgiving gift certificate program will be collected until Tuesday, Harris said.

To keep the holiday spirit going after the Thanksgiving drive, the Angel Tree program kicks off mid-November at most military installations across Europe to provide children with toys Santa had hoped to get to them.

Angels who want to provide Christmas presents for children should pick an ornament off any Angel Tree, usually located at banks, post exchanges, or ACS buildings on military installations. The ornament states the child’s gender, age and a tracking number, with no other information.

“That’s so no one’s put on the spot,” Morris said. “No one has to know who’s getting the gift, except unit commanders or first sergeants who requested the family be involved in the program.”

Though unit leaders differ on how they select families for these types of programs, some, such as Capt. T. L. Kreuser, commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 233rd Base Support Battalion in Darmstadt, said he makes his decisions based on whether families received an Army Emergency Relief loan in the past year.

“Soldiers receiving assistance through AER loans must meet strict eligibility requirements, and each of these soldiers are screened not only by professionals at ACS, but also by their unit commanders,” Kreuser wrote in a letter to the 233rd BSB Public Affairs Office.

“We had to consider why soldiers were in debt to exclude the Angel Tree Program from being a reward for poor fiscal responsibility, but rather as a helping hand for soldiers who make sound financial decisions, but for one reason or another have encountered crises beyond their control.

“In our case, one of our soldiers had multiple deaths in the immediate family, and a baby born with difficulties within an eight-month period.”

Other considerations Kreuser looks at are rank and family size.

“Soldiers, especially our junior enlisted with families, live from paycheck to paycheck — it’s reality. They want the best for their families at Christmastime and feel the pressure to overextend their financial resources,” he wrote.

Gifts can be delivered wrapped or unwrapped, with the angel ornament taped to the package up until Dec. 18.

Last year, 586 military families received help from the Holiday Sharing Program in Darmstadt alone, according to Morris.

“There’s a lot of work for volunteers, and really everyone involved in the program,” Harris said. “It’s a lot of work, but well worth it. All the units, organizations and volunteers involved are the ones who allow this to happen.”

How to be an angel

Angel Trees are placed at banks, post exchanges or Army Community Service buildings beginning this month.

Gender and age of selected children are written on ornaments hanging on tree.

Donors select an ornament, purchase a suitable gift, attach the ornament and return to the tree.

Some procedures vary between communities. Check with base officials for details.

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