Halos and wings are the first things that come to mind when the word 'angels' is mentioned, but for someone to be considered an angel, most would agree they must help others and in some way protect them. Many who know Alta Carroll would consider her a living angel minus the halo and wings. Carroll has been instrumental in the Angel Tree Project in Sharp County for many years, insuring that families in need have the Christmas they deserve.
With Christmas nearly upon us coupled with a slowing economy and loss of many jobs during 2009, many are left with the choice to pay the utility bills or buy Christmas gifts for their children. Carroll makes sure each family does not have to make that tough decision. She, along with countless volunteers and giving hearts from the public ,purchase gifts and meals for families in need through the project.
Carroll's daughter, Peggy Goodwin, who works for the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) in Sharp County, collects forms from families in need, some are submitted by friends who know of a particular need, others simply go into the office and fill out the forms detailing the age and wants of their children. Goodwin said the DHS used to do the project yearly and said that one year they decided not to do it. Goodwin said, "Oh, no, what are these people going to do?" Due to her busy schedule as a caseworker for the department, she enlisted the help of her mother and the Angel Tree project was born.
Each year, area businesses sponsor trees with childrens' names, ages and wants displayed on angels in the form of ornaments, others have forms or lists due to space restrictions. Customers of the respective businesses and employees then shop for the name they take from the tree and turn in the gifts or they can simply give money. The gifts are later collected. Carroll said, many individuals also donate. She said one man named, "Santa" gives money yearly. She said they are also thankful for the yearly donations received from the North Arkansas Electric Cooperative.
Carroll and her daughter Goodwin, along with her husband Scott and Brenda Parker, who works for the Department of Human Services shop for the gifts with the money donated and then Carroll enlists her elves to help wrap the countless gifts at a wrapping party. Each year one of the local churches donates the space required for the completion of the huge project, that Carroll said usually takes two days. She provides a meal for the volunteers as they spend a few days wrapping and assembling the gift packs for families. The smell of hot vegetable soup was prevalent at the wrapping party as numerous volunteers scampered about the building like elves gathering things on their lists and wrapping the gifts.
The whole process is very organized and implemented by Carroll. After years of practice, it seemingly goes off without a hitch. After the gifts are wrapped and bagged, they are then put into a separate room under a letter placed on the wall indicating the last name of the family. The original form is also attached to the bag. She then calls the family to tell them their package is available for pick up. If they do not have transportation to get to the church, after all the wrapping is done, they are delivered. Carroll said the volunteers are amazing.
By the looks of the Highland Hills Baptist Church on wrapping day, the public was very generous in 2009. Numerous tables spanned a huge room and were laden with everything from smiling dolls to electronic cars and motorcycles to soft toys, shoes, gloves and socks to quilts and balls. Goodwin said, as a caseworker, she goes into homes and sees the need. She said she was in one particular home this year that appeared visibly bleak. She asked if they had signed up for the gifts for the children and the lady told her she didn't know about the Angel Tree program, so Goodwin quickly went to her vehicle to get a form.
Carroll said, "It is amazing how much some of these people appreciate the gifts." We both cried as she told a story of one particular woman who had just came to pick up her gifts prior to my interview. Carroll said she hugged her several times and said, "Thank you so much, you don't know how much this means to us. We have never had to ask for anything." Due to the loss of a job, the family was in need this year. She said she even had a lady who picked up gifts offer to stay and help wrap for other families. These are undoubtedly the things that truly make Christmas the season of giving and love.
Carroll begins her season for the Angel Tree early in the year by enlisting businesses to sponsor the trees as well as advertising her mission. When Christmas nears, she, with the help of her daughter and other volunteers, assembles the trees with names at the businesses. This year there were 10 trees placed in area businesses for the project as well as others who had boxes and forms available. Goodwin said nearly 500 families were served in Sharp County through the Angel Tree Project. She said there is no way to tell how many children because some have six, while others only have one or two.
Angel Tree is something Carroll is very passionate about, she said, "The kids don't understand, it isn't their fault if their parents can't buy gifts for them." Although the project definitely makes a difference in the lives of the children and insures they receive nice gifts for Christmas, it also takes the stress off the family during the holiday season. Many families in Sharp County are barely able to pay their bills, much less provide costly gifts during Christmas for their families. The Angel Tree project is one way Carroll can give back to her community and help bring out the true human heart of giving. She said, "Who knows, maybe some of the families who are receiving gifts will volunteer some time with the project."
Once again, the donations and volunteer hours that go into this yearly project are immeasurable, but one thing is for sure, as always, people from Sharp County are very generous and yet again, verifies the reason many choose to live in this area, the people are wonderful and rally together when anyone is in need. Carroll may not wear a halo or feathery wings, but one thing is for sure, when the children open their gifts, they otherwise would not have received on Christmas morning, she will have a sense of contentment and happiness in knowing that through her selfless acts and those of countless others in the community, they have helped someone in need have the Christmas they might not have had if not for their kind and caring acts of love.