Standby Santas deliver for Christmas: Hyatt, Rotary, community 'angels' round out Angel Tree effort

Friday, December 21, 2012

What if the weather is so bad the reindeer can't fly?

What if Santa doesn't know we moved?

And the worry that underlies these questions: What if Santa doesn't come to my house this year?

For 145 Eureka Springs children, those fears will not be realized because of a band of community angels.

The angels are the volunteers who organize the Angel Tree and the people who fulfill requests for gifts from children who might not find anything in their stocking or under the tree Christmas morning.

For the fourth year, Rachal Hyatt, a counselor at Eureka Springs Elementary School, has organized the effort, which starts with sending letters home to parents. If they want to sign up and qualify, they send in their children's gift requests. This year, the requests were pretty simple, Hyatt said.

"They mainly ask for clothes, Barbies and boots," she said.

Hyatt prints the requests on tags, which she takes to local banks -- Arvest, Community First and Cornerstone -- and Bunch's Quik-Chek. Last Thursday, Hyatt, Jackie Bonds and Meg Kimball wrapped the donated presents in the basement of the Eureka Springs Police Department -- which also lends a big hand of support in the Angel Tree effort -- and placed the gifts along the walls of the gun range, awaiting pickup this week.

"We have 43 families with 145 kids," Hyatt said.

Hyatt, whose is married to Police Chief Earl Hyatt, said she doesn't know when the Angel Tree started -- it was going when she was a student at the elementary school, and probably originated with the school counselor.

Meg Kimball says she volunteers to help because she used to be a foster parent, and the community tree provided presents for her kids.

As backup for their efforts, Hyatt asks the Eureka Springs Rotary Club for help.

"There are times when people with good intentions take one of the Angel Tree tags and lose it, or don't get around to purchasing the gift," said Michelle Gann, Rotary Club treasurer. "There is always someone who at the last minute didn't get anything or whose name wasn't chosen."

Last year, Rotarians donated $575 to provide backup gifts, Gann said, and this year, have already collected $529 in two meetings by passing the hat. The club directors just voted to match up to $500 on member donations, so the total for this year's Angel Tree giving will top $1,000 easily, she said.

Eureka Springs Rotary Club also helps guarantee food on the family table during the holidays by taking up a collection for the Flint Street Food Bank at the first meeting of every month.

"In December, we collected $171," Gann said.

That's from the 30 to 40 members who show up for the 7 a.m. meeting at the Inn of the Ozarks every Wednesday. Through their annual golf tournament, the club raises money for scholarships -- more than $500 was given to local students last year -- and sponsors the Victorian Classic 10K, which raises money for local charities like ECHO, the Salvation Army, etc.

"We don't have a United Way in town, so we try to fill that role," Gann said. "We at Rotary believe in contributing not only to international projects but also to our local community."

And pretty much anything to do with kids the club is going to help with, Gann said. If there's money left over from the Santa fund, it's used to buy a coat for a child who doesn't have one.

Why they backup the standby Santas who organize the Angel Tree:

"So they can make sure all the kids have a good Christmas," Gann said.

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