If you've ever witnessed a child opening gifts on Christmas morning, you know there are few moments more precious than seeing the light in their eyes. Perhaps you are also aware that countless children live in economic circumstances that prevent them from experiencing this beloved joy each year. Through their Angel Tree program, The Salvation Army seeks to create this Christmas-morning delight for all children—regardless of their situation.
Every November at McNICHOLS, the Angel Tree program kicks off the Christmas season through giving back. Fifteen years ago, this company holiday tradition was established by one woman with a heart to serve. For Teri L'Homme, Senior Employee Service Coordinator, the Angel Tree program was a way to bring joy and connection to parents and their children. Below, we interviewed Teri about her moving story, why she was drawn to Angel Tree, and how she has encouraged the entire company to be Inspired to Serve® in new, impactful ways.
What is the Angel Tree program?
This is an annual initiative of The Salvation Army which provides gifts and clothing to thousands of underprivileged children each Christmas. It is an opportunity to minister to the families and show them that they are living in a very caring and giving community.
How many years have you been participating in the program?
I personally have been participating since December 2000. This year will be the 15th year I have set up a tree here at McNICHOLS.
What made you want to bring Angel Tree to McNICHOLS?
This started as something I did for myself as I was struggling with how to find the joy in Christmas without my son Ryan who I lost in March of 2000. From the moment I donated that first bicycle, I was sold on this program. I can't even describe how much it lifted me up to maybe help another mother give her son a gift and bring them both some joy at Christmas. I knew that McNICHOLS CO. supported the Salvation Army, and I thought how great it would be if I could play a part in reaching many more children by putting up a tree at HQ. I was not surprised at all that they said yes. Each year they have done more and more in support of this program. For the last four years, McNICHOLS has actually been the Angel Tree sponsor here in the Tampa Bay area. Not to mention that Gene and Patsy McNichols have generously matched all our associates' gifts for many years now. The Hole team really steps up each year, getting their families involved in the shopping and sharing the experience of giving to those less fortunate. I believe there is so much more in those gift bags than just toys and clothes. They are filled with love and hope, and just maybe the recipient will one day remember that and, when they are able, will pay it forward.
Are there different ways someone can choose to participate in Angel Tree?
Yes, you can select an Angel and shop for the gifts yourself. You can select an Angel and have me or one of my elves shop for you. You can make a monetary donation directly to The Salvation Army and earmark for the Angel Tree program. If you prefer to shop online, you can have gifts sent directly to the Salvation Army, and they will use the gifts for any forgotten Angels. Or you can volunteer your time to help with the setup and distribution at the toy shop.
Why is it so special to participate in this with your coworkers every year?
It really starts the holiday season off on a wonderful note. It is a way to bring the "Hole team" together. It goes beyond the walls of the headquarters office to several of our branch locations as well. We have an amazing group of associates that believe in helping each other. I feel very blessed and proud to be a part of such a giving and caring work family.
Do you have a favorite moment or memory from your many years of involvement?
That could be a very long list. Shopping with my coworkers and my family to fulfill the Angel wishes, watching the room fill up with gifts, hearing the associates share about their Angels, helping with the data entry so I could get more Angels, and the list goes on. However, volunteering at the toy shop and being present when the parent receives their gifts has to be the most rewarding part. My first year working at the toy shop really put everything in perspective. To see how thankful the parents were to receive these bags filled with toys and clothes was quite an experience. Some of their stories were so heartbreaking. They could not thank me enough, and I don't think I had ever had so many people say "God Bless You" to me in one day!
It's been a very different year, and many events or traditions have had to be postponed or modified. Why did you still feel called to continue the Angel Tree at McNICHOLS this year?
The short answer is because it is for the children! They've had two school years disrupted, and their family routines have had to adapt. So my thought was that if the Salvation Army can figure out a way to do it, I wanted to continue helping and the McNichols family was on board. I would say that after the year we have all had, the need is even greater to lift ourselves and others up. I can't think of a better way to get in the spirit of the holidays.
Inspired to Serve® this Christmas
From the Tampa headquarters all the way to our Chicago Metals Service Center, 2020 will be the 15th Christmas McNICHOLS has "adopted" Angel children within our communities. This year, our Angel Tree is a little bit more full of "angels" to care for. On an average year, Angel Tree donors provide new clothes and toys for around 1 million children who would otherwise be unable to receive holiday presents. With the economic pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, that need is expected to rise by 1.6 million additional people. If you feel compelled to engage in the spirit of giving this year, we invite you learn how you can brighten the holidays in your community.
We are grateful to Teri for showing us how one small act of service can have such a large impact on a family. As we reflect on what's important this season, may we never forget the value of a giving heart.
"A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed." - Proverbs 11:25