Monday, December 17, 2007

Angels alive and well in Santa Barbara


Imagine being all alone this holiday season, watching those around you unwrapping gifts from friends and family.
It’s a sad reality for hundreds of developmentally disabled children and adults throughout Santa Barbara County due to family deaths or abandonment.
But it’s also a reality that is slowly starting to change, thanks to a group of tireless volunteers and workers at Angels Bearing Gifts, a nonprofit organization that provides holiday gifts to people with developmental disabilities who have no family.

Dozens of volunteers stuffed stockings to the brim yesterday with simple items such as a toothbrush, a flashlight, crayons and a stuffed animal. On December 24, the stockings will be delivered to 200 people on the Angels Bearing Gifts list, from Carpinteria to Santa Maria, along with colorfully wrapped gifts.
Founder Evelynn Smith, a family and marriage therapist, said her experiences dealing with developmentally disabled individuals, including her own daughter, inspired her to start the program eight years ago.
“It was just seeing these people that were so sad,” Smith said. “I knew I couldn’t change their lives, but I knew I could do something to make sure they were remembered.”
Once someone is placed on the Angels list, they stay there, receiving gifts not only during the holidays, but also on their birthday, Valentine’s Day and other annual holidays.
“Throughout the year, we’ll send them different cards so they know we’re thinking of them,” Smith said. “I can really see a tremendous change in them, because they know they are going to be remembered.”
Some want simple things, such as a six-pack of Coca-Cola, she said. Others ask for a coat or cowboy boots or a bicycle. One year, someone even asked for a cash register.
“I was at some function saying, how am I going to find a cash register, and this man behind me said he had one,” Smith said. “He brought in this wonderful, old-fashioned cash register.”
Anyone can come in to the Angels Bearing Gifts office and sign up to sponsor a gift recipient, Smith said. Some presents are donated by businesses — mainly items that exceed the $75 that each sponsor is allowed to spend.
Close to 200 volunteers help out during the year, wrapping gifts, sponsoring people on the list, donating money and contacting businesses.
“Just the outpouring of generosity from the community has been heartwarming this year,” said Charlene Huston, an organizer with Angels Bearing Gifts. “It’s great for those who are fortunate enough to have families to help those who aren’t as fortunate.”
Huston and program director Sue Dumm encouraged local businesses with leftover inventory to donate it to the program, even if it’s not during the holiday season. Organizers are constantly looking for birthday gifts, Huston said, and are in particular need of 200 Valentine Day gifts as well.
For more information, visit, call 884-7222, or visit 505 E. Montecito St. between 9 a.m. and noon, Monday through Friday.

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