Brenda Hults plays Mrs. Claus to a special angel. Photos courtesy of Norma L. Tremblay.
SURGOINSVILLE — Christmas gifts and cheer came a little early this year to some Hawkins County children and families, thanks to the staff of a local Head Start program, two local Methodist churches and charitable groups based in Rogersville and Knoxville.
Eighty-eight families, or 366 people all told, benefited from the event, which one of the organizers said she wants to expand next year.
For the second year in a row, a party, gifts and food were provided at the church building and fellowship hall of Amis Chapel United Methodist Church near Surgoinsville for those in need.
It was part of the Angel Tree program out of Knoxville, a charity not related to the Salvation Army Angel Tree program.
Norma Tremblay, a member of Old Union United Methodist Church and team leader at the Head Start in Surgoinsville, said the Dec. 14 event was the seventh year the Head Start staff has worked with Angel Tree to serve children and families in need.
Three years ago, Old Union pastor Bob Hults and his wife, Brenda Hults, helped with the program that was done half in Rogersville and half at Old Union in the Church Hill area.
The next year, the Rev. Hults became pastor of a two-church charge of Old Union and Amis Chapel, and Tremblay said folks involved in the program decided it would be nice to have the program at one location with more room than Old Union’s small fellowship hall.
Tremblay said Patsy Hood from Of One Accord also put out a letter seeking groups that want to adopt kids at Christmas.
Since the fellowship hall is larger at Amis Chapel and a little more centrally located, Tremblay said church leaders there decided to participate. The event moved to the church on the west end of Amis Chapel Road just off Carter Valley Road.
Originally, she said the request was simply to use the fellowship hall, but the congregation at Amis Chapel decided to participate in the program by helping sponsor it and staffing the accompanying party.
This year, for the first time, the two churches held a silent auction of donated items — ranging from dinners to fast-food coupons to handmade caps, jewelry and automotive tools — in early November at Amis Chapel to help raise money for the cause.
For 2014, Tremblay said her vision is to form a non-profit group to do fundraising for the event and expand it, not to just teenage siblings of the eligible younger children but “to make sure that every child in Hawkins County has Christmas.”
She said some families with children fall on hard times after the cutoff for other charitable programs or simply don’t make the deadlines. Her idea is to work with those programs to funnel latecomers to the Head Start Angel Tree program put on by the two Methodist churches.
On Dec. 14, the two-hour event had vehicles packed into the church parking lot, with the overflow parked along the road from Carters Valley to the church.
After getting gifts and groceries, those who attended went to a party in the fellowship hall to eat pizza. The children lined up to sit on Santa’s lap and give him their wish list and/or have parents snap a photo.
Tremblay said that the program identifies those in need by starting with the children and children’s families served by First Start but also includes others they identify countywide, from Mount Carmel down to Bulls Gap.
To participate, the children must be eligible for Head Start or, if school-age, be eligible for free or reduced-price school meals.
Those who participate must provide dates of birth and Social Security numbers, and she said recipients are cross-referenced to ensure they are not being served by other charitable programs during the holiday season.
Of One Accord Ministries of Rogersville provided a frozen turkey breast, rolls and box full of food to the 88 families.
The Angel Tree program provided gifts and a bag of age-appropriated goodies and other items to children ages 0 to 13. The two churches provided gifts and a bag for 15 children ages 14-18.
Each child or teen got three wishes, plus either an outfit of clothes, shoes or a game.
She said the value of the gifts was about $150 for each child or teenager, and the stockings included candy, books, toothpaste and other items.
Amis Chapel member Sharlene Spaulding said some adults who brought their children told church volunteers that the event provided the only Christmas items their children would have.