Needy children in Johnston found presents under their Christmas trees this morning thanks to the generosity of people across the county.
Parents picked up Angel Tree presents for their kids on Thursday in Smithfield. The Johnston County Department of Social Services coordinates the gift-giving program, with the presents going to foster kids and the children of teen moms.
Smiling faces greeted Department of Social Services staff as the parents arrived to pick up the presents.
“It has a big impact, and I really appreciate it,” said Isabel Ruiz, a 19-year-old Smithfield-Selma High School senior who has a 2-year-old daughter. “Without Angel Tree, we probably wouldn’t have anything to give our kids, so we really appreciate it.”
The program provides more than toys. “When I first signed up for it, my daughter was only a few months old, and I needed the basics, really,” Ruiz said. “Diapers, wipes, anything like that. And they gave it to me.”
Kayla Starling, 18, of Kenly feels the same way. She is pregnant and a senior at North Johnston High School.
“I’m very thankful, because without them, I don’t know if I could afford all the stuff that I need,” said Starling, whose gifts included diapers and a bathtub.
Miriam Vazquez, an 18-year-old senior at Smithfield-Selma High School, has a 10-month-old daughter, Natalia. “It’s really good because it’s a help for me,” she said. “I’m still young; I’m not stable yet, but I really like it because it gives my child an opportunity, so she has toys when she was little.”
Vasquez received a car seat for her daughter, toys and a cover to keep Natalia away from stairs.
In all, the Angel Tree program helped around 150 children across the county this year. Businesses, schools and groups in Johnston and even Wake County opened their doors to trees that held the names and needs of children. People plucked the names from the trees, purchased the gifts, then returned them to the stores and schools.
In just three days last week, staff at the Department of Social Services collected all of the presents.
Judy Brinkley works with the foster care program and has been a foster parent herself for seven years. “There just was no way we could do on our own what Angel Tree did for our kids,” she said.
The Angel Tree program has meant a lot, especially for her older foster kids, Brinkley said. “The kids that we had knew that somebody went out of the way,” she said. “I remember one of my girls we fostered, twins, and one of the twins said, ‘Mama, they picked me. They didn’t pick a baby; they picked me.’ I said, ‘Right, people care about you too.’”
Brinkley called the program wonderful. “Even with the economy as bad as it is, every year this place has been full,” she said of the National Guard Armory, where parents come to pick up the gifts. “People just open their hearts; they open their wallets. They care about the kids in Johnston County.”