Angel Tree project provides presents to hundreds of kids in Batesville area

INDEPENDENCE COUNTY, AR (KAIT) - Santa Claus has quite a few helpers in the Batesville area.

For the past few weeks, people have bought presents for hundreds of local children in need through the United Way of Independence County's Angel Tree project.

Those presents are now safely nestled under Christmas trees throughout the county after volunteers passed out donations Thursday to the families in this program.

"We had a thousand kids from 480 families on our list [this year]," said Vonda Oberbeck, the executive director of the United Way of Independence County, "and we were able to have gifts for all 1,000 of them."

Vonda Oberbeck oversees the Angel Tree project, which ran into a challenge this year.

For the first time, the number of donations failed to match the amount of need.

"The public was so kind to adopt 800 [children]," Oberbeck said, "and then the Angel Tree project committee, by the grace of God, was able to sponsor the remaining 200."

The committee emptied its emergency funds and spent about $14,000 to have enough presents for parents to pick up Thursday.

Oberbeck says her group cannot afford that expense again, and it may consider limiting the number of kids it serves next year.

"We don't want to do that," she said. "We want to be able to serve every child that is eligible, but there are times when you have to make tough decisions in a tough economy."

Oberbeck says, despite the setbacks, she is thankful for the continued generosity of the United Way's most loyal donors and volunteers.

Most of them view the Angel Tree project as the official kickoff to the holidays, the true season of giving.

"You know, we don't realize a lot of times that there really is a need so great in our community," said Linda Creighton, whose bosses at Liberty Bank in Batesville gave her a day off to volunteer for the United Way. "Without this support and United Way making this possible, there'd be no Christmas for a lot of little children, so that does make you feel good."

At least 1,000 children will also feel good on Christmas morning when they open the gifts given to them by some of Santa's greatest helpers.

The United Way of Independence County will meet with its Angel Tree project committee members in the next few months, where they decide how to keep the project going for the years ahead.

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