Good Luck

December 09th, 2019


• Leader & Times

With the Thanksgiving holiday now in the past, the rush of the Christmas season has now officially begun.

For many years now, Liberal’s Sunflower Bank has been helping some families who could not otherwise afford a nice Christmas to do so.

For a few of those years, the bank has teamed up with Genesis Family Health for its annual angel tree project, and this year, the City of Liberal has been added as a new partner.

Sunflower Bank’s Elizabeth Contreras said the angel tree has become well known in the area, and this has had some already expecting the tree to be up in the bank’s lobby.

“People are already asking. Customers are already asking, ‘When are you guys getting your angels? When is the tree going up?’” she said.

Genesis’ Julie Foster said she too has had inquiries about the tree to help with buying gifts for families in need.

“I’ve had three people come in and ask if they could be signed up for the angel tree,” she said Wednesday.  “The family will come here and apply to be part of the angel tree.”

Foster said there are guidelines for families to qualify for the angel tree.

“We’ll take down the information – name, age, size, favorite color and toy – just to give somebody an idea of what to buy for a present,” she said. “We place it on the angel, and we drop it off at the bank. It gets put on a tree, and somebody will pick it up and buy an item for it.”

Last year was Foster’s first time working with the angel tree, and she said she was surprised to see how many presents kids got.

“It was boxes full of presents,” she said. “Kids really do benefit from this program. They don’t just get one thing. I think the community’s really generous when it comes to the amount of gifts they give back.”

Contreras said this year, things will be a little different on the bank’s end.

“On the norm, we will get our angels, set our angels up,” she said. “Customers, as they come in, we start to tell them, ‘Hey they’re ready.’ They start picking them up. We’re doing a majority of the participation as far as the gifts.”

Sunflower’s Marie de La O added this year, some of the bank’s budget has been put towards helping with the angel tree.

“Normally, we just utilize the bank so that customers can take them,” she said. “This year, we decided to take out some of our budget and pick out 20 kids. Sunflower Bank will be donating to 20 kids for the angel tree. We can still utilize the bank and put some more names up so more customers and other individuals can come into the bank and get a tree.”

As for the City of Liberal, Foster said interest from that entity came from Sunflower Bank itself.

Contreras said having the city involved was a natural thing for the angel tree.

“They do get a lot of traffic with utility billing, so I’m sure they’ll have a lot of success,” she said.

Foster said she is excited to see how the city being involved with the project goes.

“My goal is to reach 150 kids,” she said. “The eighth grade AVID team from Eisenhower is actually doing the angels, and they’re doing 150 of them. That’s part of one of their community service projects. I think we can easily reach that, and I’ve been working really closely with USD 480 and their social workers. We’re all brainstorming on getting the word out.”

Foster, Contreras and de La O all had different, yet somewhat similar things they liked about the angel tree.

“My favorite part is how the community comes together,” Contreras said. “Us as a bank, including our employees, they’re so eager to see how many are going to be left. We always wait at the end to see how many would be left. How we come together as a community to make this a successful angel tree.”

“I was only able to be part of the delivery at one point two years ago,” de La O said. “The expression on the kids faces, that was everything. I think there were two or three who even cried. It was hard not to cry yourself. You just got so overwhelmed. You just made their day. You just made their Christmas. That’s probably definitely the most rewarding part of it. It’s just the community coming together and their reactions.”

“With the holidays, they’re just so special for everybody, and to just imagine a kid is not going to have a whole Christmas like anybody else’s kids were,” Foster said. “There’s families and parents that struggle even if they have a good job, even if they are getting regular checks. There’s life events that cause you to struggle, and for us to be able to lessen the stress on the family is amazing.”

In her first year of working with the angel tree, Foster said she learned much, particularly that more planning is necessary.

“It’s not an easy project,” she said. “We’ve been planning it since October. Last year was my first year doing it, so this year, I wanted to get a head start. I think it’s a month-long project, and it takes so many people to do it – Sunflower Bank, USD 480, City of Liberal, us.  It’s a lot of work. I think it’s a lot more work than people really realize.”

Contreras said Foster came to her knowing of Sunflower’s track record with the angel tree.

“I gave her all the sources I had and how it works and told her she would do great at it,” she said.

All three likewise hope those who give to the angel tree will get much out of doing so.

“I would hope the community would see others giving back and would want to also be involved in that,” Foster said. “Social media’s such a huge platform that when you post, it’s not about saying, ‘Oh look what I did,’ but it’s ‘Look what you can do.’”

Foster said helping with the angel tree is easy.

“Little kids gifts are not that expensive,” she said. “You can buy something for $20, and it’ll go a long way for somebody else.”

Contreras said she likes the involvement of the community, and everyone involved seems to get something out of it.

“Liberal’s really good,” she said. “It’s a really strong community. Being part of the Chamber, I see that, and I know once we start, if it’s putting the angel tree out there and the purpose of it and everything that’s behind it, I think this year will be really successful. I can really see our community coming together and it being more successful for our families in the years to come for sure.”

For de La O, she believes many who are interested in taking part have higher expectations than are needed to help.

“I have to go and get $100 worth of toys or clothes for someone else, when in reality, it’s just anything you get,” she said. “A lot of times we’ve gotten a smaller gift, we just add on to it ourselves. We’ll purchase it ourselves and just include it with the gift. It goes a long ways even just getting a small gift.”

de La O added there is never a price range for gifts.

“It’s just whatever you can do,” she said. “If we need to adjust it, we adjust it on our own, and we’re thankful for whatever you can give.”

de La O said for those who do not buy gifts, they can still contribute money to the angel tree.

“Anything that comes toward the angel tree, we’ll make it work,” she said. 

Foster said having an angel tree is a great way to make Christmas brighter for someone.

“I think it’s just the holiday season itself, the meaning behind the holidays, that people are more willing to give back, and I hope the rest of the community sees that as well and can participate,” she said. 

To sign up for the angel tree, come by Genesis at 121 W. Third Street in Liberal between Dec. 2 and Dec. 13. For more information, contact Foster at 620-624-0463.

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