Take a tag from the Tree of Hope, and you will find a wish. The printing on this label is simple: an age, a gender, and a brief request for a Christmas present. These details reflect the demographics of local children and seniors in need and their modest requests for the holidays.
Every year, the good people, churches and organizations of Brunswick County come together through the facilitation of Brunswick Family Assistance to bring a little magic and merriment to some of the more economically challenged families in the area.
“We depend on the support of the community to make this program successful, and they always follow through,” says Stephanie Bowen, executive director of Brunswick Family Assistance.
The team at Brunswick Family Assistance has collected gifts for children and seniors in need during their Christmas Basket/Tree of Hope program for nearly a decade. The way it works is simple: participants, or “sponsors,” choose an anonymous tag from the tree and then purchase the requested gift.
“People can become involved in our community in a positive way,” Bowen adds. “They can participate by sponsoring a child under the age of 12, or a senior 60 years of age and over. We keep the cost for the wish below 25 dollars per piece for each sponsor.”
Families who may struggle throughout the year can have a day of reprieve, and the impact is profound. It is one of the organization’s largest programs, and through the proceeds of last year combined with donations received over the year, BFA distributed Christmas presents and/or food baskets to more than 2,000 individuals in Brunswick County.
“There has been an overwhelming response this year. There are no tags left. Every single family has been sponsored! We have told people to come on back next year for a tag, or pointed them towards other ways to help,” says Bowen. “Our goal is to distribute to every family in the program, and we have met that goal. Out of 150 tags, every single family has been sponsored.”
Volunteers drop off the presents at the Brunswick Beacon offices, and this year distribution day took place December 13, 14 and 15.
“The office just gets filled with boxes,” she beams. “This year, so many people have sponsored a family on the Tree of Hope. This is such a beautiful reflection of our community.”
Even if no tags remain, volunteers and sponsors can look no further than the food pantry to support families in need.
“Our food pantry is a different side. You can help distribute or donate, or you can provide a basket of food for Christmas dinner. We have sponsors who donate turkeys for the food baskets,” says Bowen.
In the meantime, Stephanie Bowen is taking a much-deserved trip with her husband–a sort of late honeymoon. Before leaving, she made sure everything was in place so when she returns for gift distribution, the delivery will go off without a hitch.
Not only that, but the organization will be celebrating in 2018 with the opening of a new branch in the northern part of the county: a full-time office in Leland off Village Road. BFA just signed a lease, and this office will house a food pantry. Bowen says the projected grand opening should take place in January. “We are in need of volunteers. We’ll need help with the front desk, and we will train.”
“Knowing how much people care is the best part of directing the organization. We all know there are people who need an extra dose of holiday spirit. I just want to tell the community: thank you for coming together and making this program happen,” she says.