County school Angel Tree program serves nearly 500 students
By Leila Beem Núñez, Editor Brightly colored gift bags and boxes filled the halls and rooms of Coffee County Schools’ main office in Manchester last week as staff members worked quickly, unloading truckloads of presents to be sorted. The gifts would go to some very special recipients: nearly 500 county school students and their families. For over two decades, the school system’s Family Resource Center has during the holidays sponsored the Angel Tree program, which seeks to ensure that every child, regardless of resources available to his or her family, has the Christmas filled with excitement every student deserves, said Family Resource Center Coordinator Taylor Rayfield.
The initiative invites local individuals, organizations, churches, industry and small businesses to adopt an “angel,” or a county student in need, and provide them with a wide range of holiday gifts ranging from hygiene products to warm clothes to toys. “For the past two years, we’ve served almost 500 students,” Rayfield said. “That’s just in Coffee County Schools alone – that’s close to 200 families.” The number makes up over 10 percent of the student populations across all nine county schools. Coffee County Schools Director Dr. LaDonna McFall said the Angel Tree program is not only a testament to the giving nature of the community, but a reminder for everyone that there are many local children and their families in need, and not only during the holiday months. She noted that many people throughout the community work hard to ensure that the Angel Tree program is a success each year. “It’s a great opportunity for our community to recognize that there is a need here. It’s a good reminder that we do have people who need help and support, and not just during Christmas,” McFall said. Students are signed up earlier in the school year by their parents. If the students have younger siblings not in the school system, gifts are provided for them as well, Rayfield said as he walked to one of the rooms of sorted gifts. In it sat items from infant car seats to bicycles to the latest toys, as well as basic necessities. “It’s a wide variety of things. The things that we put on the angels [list] are clothes, shoes, a coat, and any kind of special items of choice,” Rayfield said. “Somebody asked for comic books and [an angel sponsor] went and bought $100 worth of comic books.” Rayfield said the goal of the project each year is to not only give county students a happy holiday, but to provide as much as possible to students, who will in turn be more prepared for and do better in school every day. “We’re all about empowerment and ensuring that we can provide access and equity to all of our students and families, to ensure that they’re successful,” Rayfield said. He added that he is thankful to be in a position in which he can help serve, but gave all the credit to the team effort the Angel Tree program is. “We’re always fortunate because this community always comes through,” Rayfield said. “We do live in a community that always puts the needs of children first, and that is very humbling.”