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Arnold AFB personnel donate gifts for AEDC Angel Tree program

Master Sgt. Ricardo Hollingsworth stands with some of the gifts provided to area children by members of the Arnold Air Force Base workforce through the Arnold Engineering Development Complex Angel Tree program. This year, more than 200 children in surrounding counties were sponsored through the AEDC program. (U.S. Air Force photo by Bradley Hicks)

Master Sgt. Ricardo Hollingsworth stands with some of the gifts provided to area children by members of the Arnold Air Force Base workforce through the Arnold Engineering Development Complex Angel Tree program. This year, more than 200 children in surrounding counties were sponsored through the AEDC program. (U.S. Air Force photo by Bradley Hicks)

Master Sgt. Ricardo Hollingsworth stands with some of the gifts provided to area children by members of the Arnold Air Force Base workforce through the Arnold Engineering Development Complex Angel Tree program. This year, more than 200 children in surrounding counties were sponsored through the AEDC program. (U.S. Air Force photo by Bradley Hicks)

Master Sgt. Ricardo Hollingsworth stands with some of the gifts provided to area children by members of the Arnold Air Force Base workforce through the Arnold Engineering Development Complex Angel Tree program. This year, more than 200 children in surrounding counties were sponsored through the AEDC program. (U.S. Air Force photo by Bradley Hicks)

ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. --

The need was great.

So was the response.

Team members at Arnold Air Force Base, the headquarters of Arnold Engineering Development Complex, once again stepped up to ensure this year’s AEDC Angel Tree program was a success and, thanks to their efforts, Christmas will be a little brighter for more than 200 area children.

“Our community – the AEDC community – they were excited about it and they wanted to do this,” said Master Sgt. Ricardo Hollingsworth, coordinator of this year’s AEDC Angel Tree program.

Each year, personnel across Arnold may sponsor “angels” from a list shared with the workforce and purchase gifts based on each angel’s wants, such as dolls, action figures, building blocks and video games, and needs, such as coats, socks, shirts and shoes. The angels are local children who may not otherwise receive Christmas gifts from family members due to their financial situations.

Organizers at Arnold AFB have worked with the Center for Family Development in Shelbyville since the late 1990s, and the base is among the businesses and organizations that receive an angels list from the Center. When the partnership began, there were around 30 children on the Angel Tree list provided to Arnold. As the number of people seeking support through the Center has increased, so has the number of children on the list.

Last year, there were 135 children on the list provided to Arnold. That number jumped exponentially this year, as there were 239 children from surrounding counties in need of sponsorship on the Arnold Angel Tree list.

Hollingsworth attributed much of this increase to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as it has adversely impacted the livelihoods of many and inhibited their ability to afford Christmas gifts for their families this year. 

“Around here, locally, you’re talking about small businesses, restaurants, family-owned businesses, things like that that can’t operate during this pandemic,” he said. “A lot of people are out of work for that reason.”

The Angel Tree list Arnold was set to receive from the Center for Family Development initially consisted of nearly 450 angels in need of sponsorship. Because this number represented such a dramatic increase over the 2019 total, Hollingsworth’s contact at the Center proposed halving this year’s Arnold list. Hollingsworth advised her that Team AEDC would be up to the challenge.

“I told her we could at least do half of the list because we still have a lot of people working here, and people look forward to giving during this time,” he said. “It’s the season of giving. A lot of people know about others not being able to work, so it’s a great time to share, to give, especially to our community.”

All 239 children on the list were sponsored.

According to Hollingsworth, many at Arnold were eagerly anticipating taking part in this year’s Angel Tree. He said between the time he received the final list from the Center for Family Development to its distribution to the workforce, he received dozens of calls and emails from team members wishing to confirm that the program was taking place this year and asking when the list would be released.

“I feel like the base, AEDC, they’re a generous group and they want to help,” Hollingsworth said.

It wasn’t just those at Arnold AFB who helped make this year’s program a success. Hollingsworth said because the Angel Tree list is distributed across AEDC, it ended up in the hands of personnel at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. Although located more than 1,300 miles away, team members at Holloman jumped at the chance to ensure a happier holiday season for some children living in southern middle Tennessee.

“Instead of saying, ‘Oh, that’s at Arnold AFB, not here,’ they reached out to see what they could do,” Hollingsworth said. “I told them that they can do a Walmart purchase and pickup in my name I will go and get the items for them.”

This marked the third year Hollingsworth has been involved with coordination of the AEDC Angel Tree program. He said this work has been personally rewarding.

“It’s a close place to my heart,” he said. “I have two girls myself, and the smile that it brings on Christmas seeing the kids open gifts, it’s irreplaceable. Kids and Christmas, the holiday season, that’s just a happy place, and doing this definitely keeps that warmth in my heart. It’s great to be able to give kids something to look forward to during Christmastime.”

It appears the pandemic has also influenced the angels’ wants, as this year it wasn’t all about toys and electronics.

“The children’s wants and needs are not like how it was last year,” Hollingsworth said. “You’re not getting, ‘I want a tablet.’ ‘I want headphones.’ ‘I want an Xbox.’ ‘I want a Playstation.’ Now, the kids are asking for or the families are asking for the necessities – ‘I need my kids to have warm clothes when they go to school.’ ‘I need shoes for my kids. Why? Because I can’t afford it because I don’t have a job right now.’

“I think that’s where we come into play, and when I say ‘we,’ I mean AEDC. We can provide that for a lot of the families. A lot of our people here, they still have income. They’re still working, so they can do the extra and give, which is great. And I’m pretty sure they feel like how I feel about Christmas because, if they didn’t, we wouldn’t be doing this.”

Representatives from the Center for Community Development visited Arnold in mid-December to collect the gifts provided by base personnel. The Center was responsible for wrapping and distribution of the presents.