RIVER FALLS – Each Christmas and holiday season, the Angels on Earth Giving Tree program, in partnership with the River Falls Assistance and Resource Center (ARC), provides gifts and support to many families in the River Falls community.
The program has operated for more than 25 years and was formerly named Ecumenical Giving Tree. Its roots can be traced back to a group of St. Bridget Catholic Church women who wanted to provide gifts to local families in need at Christmas. The program name changed after original program coordinator Rita Mountain died in 2016 from pancreatic cancer; she served in that role for more than 17 years.
Current Program Coordinator Tammy Pitzen felt like the name change really highlights what the program is about.
“Before she passed away, she (Mountain) made me promise to keep this program going and I needed to fulfill that,” Pitzen said.
The new name is in also a commemoration of Mountain. “Right before she passed away, I asked her if we could change the name because she always referred to the people helping and supporting her that they were her angels on earth and I wanted to change the name in honor of her,” said Pitzen.
The holiday season is historically a tougher time for families and there is more of a need for support financially. Programs like this one help families to get through those hard months.
“The Angels on Earth Giving Tree Program is the main holiday gift program, this is the go to program that oversees the whole thing,” Pitzen said.
The program works with many other community organizations; the program’s website states, “Many local churches assist with the program by adopting families: St. Bridget Catholic Church, Ezekiel Lutheran Church, First Congregational Church, First Covenant Church and the Assembly of God Church. The River Falls American Legion, Sharing Families program, area businesses and school groups also provide assistance.”
The prep work for this program begins in July each year, when the group seeks out sponsors and donors and prepares applications questions. Each September is when the applications are available. In November, Pitzen sorts through the applications and provides the information to the local churches and organizations who are willing to support families.
“Once the application process is open, I go through every single application line by line and make sure they are eligible, and each child is given three wishes and then they also get a set of clothing,” said Pitzen.
This specific holiday program is truly for the community and from the community, with all the helping hands. Pitzen said she is always so uplifted by how the community comes together.
“This community is incredible,” Pitzen said. “They step up when people need help.”
In 2020, the program helped 173 families, including 397 children. Gift cards awarded totaled more than $19,000 and gas cards added up to $3,200. In all, donations were estimated to total $49,625.
Only families in the River Falls School District are able to apply for this program. This is to ensure that the communities here are supported and taken care of by the community they are from. ARC is prioritizing providing for families in the River Falls area during the Christmas season.
When applying, children list their top three wishes and once everything is sorted, the sponsors will donate money or purchase the gifts for the families that they “adopt.” The program also gives gift cards from local businesses, houseware items and personal care items to each family.
For those who would like to help but cannot support an entire family, the churches are currently in need of bath towels, laundry baskets, shampoo, combs and brushes, body wash, toothpaste, deodorant, socks of all sizes and many other personal care items.
Monetary donations are also accepted; they can be sent to the ARC at PO Box 223, River Falls WI 54022. Checks can be dropped off at St. Bridget’s Catholic Church in the front office, and should be made payable to ARC Giving Tree/Angels on Earth.
For more information on how to help support this program visit www. arcriverfalls.org/angels-onearth- giving-tree/ or visit the Angel’s on Earth Giving Tree Program Facebook page. The sign up to sponsor families is also available through the website and Facebook page. The deadline to apply for assistance has been extended to Friday, Nov. 12.