An unlit Christmas tree decorated with paper angels sits patiently at the entrance of J.C. Penney in Waco’s Richland Mall, waiting for the last requests to be filled by holiday shoppers.
The Project Angel Tree Central Texas tree has stood in the mall since Nov. 9, but almost 800 of the 3,000 children represented still are waiting for Christmas gifts, with most of the remaining requests for preteens and teenagers, program coordinator Sharon Eads said.
It’s typical for older children to be forgotten because shoppers enjoy buying toys such as dollhouses and bikes, but overlook requests for gift cards or shoes, Eads said.
The Prison Fellowship: Angel Tree Program allows jail inmates to sign up their children to receive Christmas gifts in the parent’s name. Eads said they take children up to age 16 as long as they are in school.
But the deadline for donations is Sunday, and Eads said she doesn’t have enough gifts to cover all the requests.
Mindy Chadwick and Scott Adkins bought gifts for the first time this year and purposefully chose an infant and two toddlers.
Chadwick said she has an infant and couldn’t stand the thought of her baby going without presents.
“The (younger children) tugged at my heart more,” she said.
Others didn’t look at the age when choosing an ornament.
Pricilla Gutierrez stopped by the tree Thursday afternoon and chose a 13-year-old girl’s wish at random.
Gutierrez said she has been struggling financially while parenting her three children and plans to buy gifts as an act of faith in God.
“I’m giving because God’s going to see us through,” she said.
Angel Tree volunteer Alice Wren helps those choosing angels and understands why younger children often get picked, but added there are frequently shoppers who like to purchase only for teenagers.
Wren said she met one shopper who lost his mother when he was a teenager. He chose to buy gifts for older children because of the difficulties he went through at that time in his life.
Eads said shoppers are not required to buy what the child has requested, acknowledging some requests can be expensive, but she tries to grant every wish.
“We don’t guarantee the kids they will get their wish,” Eads said.
Angel Tree volunteer Bob Washington bought gifts for three children in 2012, but wanted to do more this year.
Washington said he chose to participate in Angel Tree to support a family struggling during the holidays.
He purchased a tree, decorations and presents for all four children to ensure they had good memories from Christmas.
“I wanted to make some kind of impact on the lives of families and children and provide a special day for them,” he said.