Arnold AFB Angel Tree supporters bring Christmas joy to 143 children

Senior Master Sgt. Charles Hoyt, with the AEDC Arnold Air Force Base Test Systems Sustainment Division, and a community volunteer collect the toys and clothing donated through this year’s Arnold AFB Angel Tree program. The items provided by base personnel will go to 143 area children. (U.S. Air Force photo/Rick Goodfriend)

Senior Master Sgt. Charles Hoyt, with the AEDC Arnold Air Force Base Test Systems Sustainment Division, and a community volunteer collect the toys and clothing donated through this year’s Arnold AFB Angel Tree program. The items provided by base personnel will go to 143 area children. (U.S. Air Force photo/Rick Goodfriend)

ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, TENN. -- When the call for help went out personnel across Arnold Air Force Base promptly responded; and due to their efforts, Christmas will be a little brighter for 143 area children.

Arnold team members, local counselors and volunteers joined together recently to collect all of the toys and clothing provided by active duty military, DOD and contractors through the annual Arnold AFB Angel Tree program.

Each year, team members sponsor angels from list and purchase gifts based on the angel’s needs and wants as identified in the list. The angels are local children who may not have otherwise received Christmas gifts from family members due to their financial situations.

Every child on the Angel Tree list received sponsorship.

“All 143 we got assigned got sponsors fairly quickly,” said Sgt. Matthew Alfreno, who headed up the Arnold AFB Angel Tree effort. “It was amazing, the response from base personnel.”

The Angel Tree list was provided by the Center for Family Development in Shelbyville. The center has worked with the base on the Angel Tree program since 1999. That first year, the angel list was made up of around 30 children. Center Manager Benita Caldwell said as the number of people seeking support through the Center for Family Development has grown, so has the number of children on the base Angel Tree list.
“It’s humongous. It’s so big,” Caldwell said of the base response to the Angel Tree program. “There’s no way we could give to all those families without the help of all these folks at the base. Every year, when we send more, they respond the same way.”

Caldwell said the need in this part of the state is great. According to 2016 KIDS COUNT data, more than 9,500 of the approximately 12,200 children in Bedford County alone were classified as “economically disadvantaged.” Caldwell added that many of the children in the Center for Family Development’s Relative Caregiver program live with grandparents who are often on fixed incomes.

“The folks at AEDC are actually providing some of these children their entire Christmas,” Caldwell said.

Arnold AFB representatives contact the organization early each October to request an Angel Tree list. Case workers with the Center for Family Development begin meeting with children and families in need and compile a list of gifts children would want, such as movies and action figures, and gifts they would need, such as winter clothing, shoes and bedding.

According to Alfreno, folks across the base were eager to help as soon as the list was posted.

“People were calling me up and were like, ‘Hey, I wanted some angels but I’ve got some questions,’” he said. “They were just wonderful and just filled up the list really quickly.”

Caldwell expressed appreciation to Arnold personnel for being especially attentive to the items listed as “needs.”

“Every single child got something they wanted to see under the Christmas tree, but they also got those warm pajamas, warm coats, hats and things like that,” Caldwell said.

“What really stood out to me was the fact that not only were ‘needs’ purchased by our sponsors, but the ‘wants’ as well,” Alfreno said. “The necessities that were provided are much needed and will go to great use. But adding to that, the things that the kids are passionate about was really exciting for me, too. The generosity of our sponsors here at AEDC seemed beyond compare.”

“Everybody that I talked to when they dropped off the gifts, you could tell they enjoyed buying for their angels, were excited about it, in really good spirits. It’s contagious. It makes people happy.”

But Alfreno said what is more significant is the joy that will be brought to the children receiving gifts.

“The children who receive gifts this year will truly have a Christmas to remember,” he said. “From what I could tell, they got not only what they needed, but also what they wanted. The fact that so many sponsors eagerly stepped up to the plate to help these neighbors in need was very humbling to witness. And they knocked it out of the park. I’d like to thank each and every one of them for making this such a huge success.”

Drop offs of the gifts donated by Arnold team members began in late November and concluded Dec. 6. On Dec. 8, the bicycles, dolls, games and other toys purchased by base personnel were collected and taken to the Shelbyville office of the Center for Family Development. From there, case workers provided the gifts to families to wrap and place under Christmas trees.

“We just can’t say ‘thank you’ enough,” Caldwell said. “That just doesn’t cover how grateful we are and how appreciative we are for the effort of the base every year.”

The gifts provided through the Arnold AFB Angel Tree program will go to children in Bedford, Coffee, Franklin, Giles, Hickman, Lawrence, Lewis, Lincoln, Marshall, Maury, Moore, Perry and Wayne counties.