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Last-Minute Angels Fulfill Christmas Wishes For Families In Need

Holy Trinity Catholic Church school assembly room filled with gift bags
Bill Zeeble
On a Friday evening at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Dallas, gift bags for families in need start to fill the assembly room floor.

Every December, thousands of people buy toys, clothes and stocking-stuffers so families in need can have a happy holiday. But what happens when those donors forget items or buy the wrong size?

At one Dallas church, so-called last-minute angels dash to stores to fill empty bags and save Christmas.

On a busy Friday night at Dallas’ Holy Trinity Catholic Church, sponsors are dropping off bags of new, unwrapped clothes and toys from wish lists they’ve promised to fill.

By 7 a.m. the next morning, hundreds of recipients will start arriving in shifts at this Oak Lawn neighborhood church to pick up their bags. Each of the bags arriving Friday night gets set out on the school assembly room floor to be checked by volunteers, like Mckenzi Skinner. 

“I am an audit captain,” Skinner says. “We’re going through all of the gifts our sponsors bring in and checking to make sure we have clothes, shoes and toys for each of the children sponsored.”

donors dropping off bags for families
Credit Bill Zeeble / KERA News
Sponsors drop off bags at Holy Trinity filled with clothes, toys and stocking-stuffers.

Skinner and the audit team take this job seriously. If something’s missing or clothing is the wrong size, volunteer auditor Carolina Skertchly passes that on to volunteer shoppers.

“Tonight,” Skertchly says, “they’ll go shopping for whatever’s missing. Then anything that we have that’s the wrong size or whatever, we kind of divvy it out to whoever can take it.” 

Mistakes happen. Maybe a bag with a size 9 shoe actually needs a size 5. But, returning volunteer Megan Culp says things seem worse this year.

“There’s a quite a bit of pieces missing,” Culp says. “Some folks forgot to shop entirely and are not coming tonight. Others simply couldn’t find the clothing sizes required, and some people just cherry-picked what to shop for and not for.”

With a list of what’s needed in hand, Culp and fellow volunteers Andrew Halphen and Emily Vanderwall hop in Halphen’s Honda and go shopping.

It’s not quite 10 p.m., and from the car’s back seat Vanderwall reads the long shopping list. 

At the store, the volunteer shoppers spread out and spend over an hour shopping for shoes, shirts, a volleyball, a stuffed toy and a bunch of pants. The total price of the items is about $1,000. That cost will be covered by donations.  

Megan Culp and Emily Vanderwall
Credit Bill Zeeble / KERA News
Christmas Angels volunteer shoppers from Friday night, Megan Culp (left) and Emily Vanderwall, are back early Saturday morning to see families pick up their bags.

Once the Christmas Angels get back to the church, the purchased goods get directed to the right bags on the assembly room floor.                                       

By 1:00 a.m. their job is done, and they head home. Culp says the night's been long but it was worth it.

“It’s fun to be part of a community and to see different parts of our church community come together for such a great cause,” Culp says. 

Which is why she was back at the church handing out gifts six hours later, wearing a big smile and her red and green elf dress.

Disclosure: Reporter Bill Zeeble has participated as a volunteer in this program.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.