By Gwen Rollings
The Christmas season of giving started early on November 7 at the Winn-Dixie on 16751 FishHawk Blvd. in Lithia as a group of little elves (dressed just like Girl Scouts) went to work on decorating an Angel Tree in the store, helping Santa bring presents to some youngsters this year.
It was not the first time similar-looking elves were spied decorating a tree in that location nor was it the first year an Angel Tree sparkled there. For almost 20 years, the Ministry of Hope Through the Lord Jesus Christ in Lithia has placed Angel Trees in what was first a Kash n’ Karry, then a Sweetbay and now a Winn-Dixie.
Troop Leader Jennifer Strom said Fossil Valley Girl Scout troops began decorating 9-foot Angel Trees in this Winn-Dixie several years ago. Scout Troop 3529 put their community service to good use by helping make this Christmas season bright for others.
The Angel Trees are kept carefully protected by the Ministry of Hope each year.
Janeen Long, co-director, said that during the past 20 years, “We have probably gone through five or six trees. When one wears out, we buy another.”
The names of deserving boys and girls under 18 years old and a few widows are taken from the branches by shoppers who promise to bring Christmas gifts to those less fortunate in the community.
The Angel Tree ministry is an extension of the Ministry of Hope that Long and her husband, Wayne, have devoted decades in providing for those who are destitute and in need. Perhaps the most unique feature in all they do, whether providing food, appliances, car repairs or Christmas presents, is ensuring that no one has to pay for anything.
Every slip of paper on the Angel Tree represents someone who might not receive anything unless their name is chosen. The paper tells something about that person: their first name, age, clothing size and even what they wish for Christmas. The gifts can be wrapped or brought in bags with Christmas paper included. They must be returned to Winn-Dixie by Friday, December 18.
Everyone on the tree has received assistance from the Ministry of Hope previously and no other applications are being considered this year. Long wants every life represented on the Angel Tree to experience the generosity and love that should define the Christmas spirit, especially this year.
For more information, call the Ministry of Hope Through the Lord Jesus Christ at 685-5047.