BATESVILLE, AR (KAIT) – The United Way of Independence County is making the holidays a little merrier for more than 500 families in the Batesville area.
The service organization has collected donations through its annual Angel Tree program, and volunteers dispersed items to families in need Thursday at the Independence County Fairgrounds.
The local United Way chapter took over the program three years ago after the state Department of Human Services nearly ended it. The state agency was unable to maintain the growing need for the service, so the United Way and hundreds of generous residents have opened their hearts and their wallets to provide gifts for families.
"I'd say this was probably one of the hardest years to try to figure out how to get presents," Kendra Brockenshire of Salado said. "If it wasn't for (Angel Tree), then the kids probably wouldn't have Christmas this year."
Brockenshire says money is tight, and work is hard to come by. For the past eight years, she has relied on the generosity of others to provide Christmas for her four kids.
"It makes me sad," she said. "I wish I could have had a decent job to be able to buy them all something nice."
Brockenshire's family was adopted, along with 500 others, through the Angel Tree program. Vonda Oberbeck, the United Way of Independence County executive director, says more than 1,000 children will have presents under the tree this year. Residents provided hundreds of donations, including more than 300 bicycles.
"It's a tremendous job," Oberbeck said. "It's a tremendous task to be able to complete this process."
The United Way has seen lines for the service grow longer every year. Last year set a record with over 600 families helped, so the organization made some changes. The age limit shrank from zero to 12 to two- to 10-years-old, which Oberbeck says allows the United Way to better manage the rising demand.
"We don't ever want to have to turn a parent away, and so far we've never had to," she added.
The wish lists may grow longer each year, but the community has always answered the cries for help.
"This community just continuously amazes me with its kindheartedness," said Colin Patterson, chairman of the Angel Tree program.
It's that generosity that Brockenshire and her children appreciate year after year.
"We really appreciate it, and my kids will enjoy it on Christmas Day," she said.