Angel Tree sparks hope for hundreds of kids

Village Baptist Church transforms to Santa's Workshop during Christmastime

Annie Blanks
The Destin Log
Angel Tree at Village Baptist Church collects thousands of toys, clothing items and good items for children and families in need this Christmas. [ANNIE BLANKS/THE LOG]

It may look like an unassuming yellow stucco building on the outside, but on the inside, Village Baptist Church’s community building is a real-life Santa’s workshop.

Inside, Santa’s “elves,” disguised as church volunteers, work vigorously day in and day out collecting toys, clothes and food, and then wrapping and boxing the toys in colorful wrapping paper. They tie big bows and stuffed animals on the outside of the wrapped boxed and stack them high, floor to ceiling, until Santa can deliver them Christmas morning.

Santa Claus is, in this case, a woman by the name of Deb Hoadley. She started the Angel Tree program at Village Baptist Church seven years ago to fill a need in the Destin community she saw arising around the holidays.

“Some of the children in this community don’t get Christmas presents because they come from abusive homes or their parents aren’t around,” she said. “Others’ parents are laid off, because this is Destin and some parents get laid off around this time of year. We have foster kids we take care of too.”

This year, Hoadley and her team of elves have collected enough toys, clothes and food to supply over 600 local children with Christmas boxes. Children in the community are referred to her via various groups, including Harvest House, Path of Grace, Destin Elementary School, Prison Outreach Ministry and Rhonda Coon Home.

The children fill out a wish list, and the list is turned into a pink or blue paper angel ornament that is hung from a tree. Angel trees are located at First Watch Café, the Destin Community Center and Gold’s Gym locations in Fort Walton Beach and Destin.

Anyone can pick a child’s angel off the tree, shop for the child and drop off the donations at Village Baptist Church. Additionally, the church accepts any and all donations of food, clothing and toys. Hoadley has grocery lists she provides as well.

“I know what it’s like as a child to not have that present under the tree, and I think that if we can just spark hope in a child they can have that moment of joy,” she said.

In addition to toys, every child through Angel Tree receives at least one outfit but usually two, three or four, as well as groceries for their family, including beans, stuffing, rice and even a whole turkey. Hoadley said her Angel Tree program is special because they take a holistic approach to gift-giving and keep in contact with many of the children and their families year-round.

“Many of these families we follow up with throughout the year,” she said. “We call them and we pray with them. We have a clothes closet here now as well as a food pantry they are welcome to come to.”

Linda Calcote, a parishioner who volunteers to sort and wrap presents, said the program is a special way the church ministers to the community.

“We just want to show people how much God loves them and that we care about them not only Christmas time, but year-round,” Calcote said. “We want them to know his is a safe place to come to be loved and hugged and have needs met.”

For more information about Angel Tree or for more ways to get involved, contact Deb Hoadley at dghoadley@gmail.com.