Families get special Christmas delivery as fire trucks roll into 26 neighborhoods

Santa Claus adjusts the mirror before making deliveries for the Angel Tree Project, date and location not specified | Photo courtesy of the Lake Foundation, St. George News

WASHINGTON COUNTY — Fire engines from all over Utah made their way through more than a dozen towns during the week leading up to Christmas loaded with gifts, bringing special holiday deliveries to struggling families through the Angel Tree Project.

Gifts are loaded into a rescue truck at the Washington City Fire Department to be delivered through the Angel Tree Project, Washington City, Utah, Dec. 19, 2018 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Originally launched in 2014 to help two struggling families, the Angel Tree Project has grown exponentially over the last five years — so much so that more than 10 times the number of families were provided for this year, fueled by donations from a generous community, a dozen fire departments and nearly 30 businesses throughout the region.

The Angel Tree Project started at the Santa Clara Fire Department as a way to help those who feel like they are lost or forgotten around the holiday and to remind them that they are so much more important than they might ever know, program founder Krystle Lake said.

“I have personally been able to talk with some of the strongest, bravest, hardest working families, and with the help of so many throughout our community, we are all able to come together and make something amazing happen,” Lake said.

This year, Angel Trees were set up in the Santa Clara-Ivins, St. George, Washington City, Hurricane Valley, New Harmony, Central, Hanksville, Draper, Richfield, Salina and South Jordan fire departments. The elaborately decorated trees include tags indicating the needs and wants of families taken as individual projects by firefighters, their families and community members.

Once an angel tag is pulled from the tree, those items are purchased using donations from fire personnel and the community. Volunteers wrap and deliver the gifts over the course of a week to each home in fire engines with lights and sirens blaring to alert the coming of Santa Claus. Each family also receives gift cards to cover any other needs the family might have during the holidays.

For years, Staheli Family Farms also has donated an enormous amount of food items that fill large metal barrels. These food donations were included in all the deliveries made throughout Washington County over the last week.

Holiday deliveries with lights and sirens

On Monday, St. George Fire Department delivered gifts to families, followed Tuesday by Hurricane Valley Fire District, Hanksville Fire Department and South Jordan Fire Department.

Fire trucks roll out of the Washington City Fire Department to deliver gifts to three families as part of the Angel Tree Project, St. George, Utah, Dec. 19, 2018 | Photo courtesy of The Lake Foundation, St. George News

On Wednesday, the Washington City fire and police departments joined forces to delivered gifts, and on Thursday evening, Santa Clara-Ivins Fire Department, Salina Fire Department and Richfield Fire Department delivered gifts to families in their respective areas.

The New Harmony Fire Department and Draper Fire Deparment delivered gifts Friday evening, and on Saturday evening, Central Fire Department made the final deliveries, bringing the fifth Angel Tree season to a close.

Fundraising

Santa Clara/Ivins Fire Department and Washington City Fire Department join forces with police officers to run a special fundraiser for the program. The officers were on hand that special night when fire engines and police vehicles loaded with gifts made their way through 26 neighborhoods to bring the holiday spirit to the families.

Officers in Washington City were part of a combined effort to bring Christmas to three families this year, and to that end, the officers participated in a holiday charity program.

During the months of November and December, many officers participate in a fundraiser that allows any officer who chooses to donate to grow a beard for two months, a practice that is typically banned by a majority of police departments across the U.S., and Washington City is no different — except during the special holiday fundraiser.

The money collected from that fund is then donated to an organization or program of the officers’ choosing, and for the past two years, the funds have been donated to the Angel Tree Project.

Group gathers for a photo at the South Jordan Fire Department during gift deliveries for the Angel Tree Project, South Jordan City, Utah, Dec. 17, 2018 | Photo courtesy of the Lake Foundation, St. George News

This year was a little different, Detective Jerran Carter with the Washington City Police Department explained. When they decided to make two donations, the officers approached the Autumn Park Assisted Living facility for the purpose of making a donation or purchasing something for the residents of the facility, in addition to donating the funds already earmarked for the Angel Tree Project.

Instead of accepting anything from the officers, Autumn Park’s “resident council” decided to become involved in the Angel Tree Project, and once they joined forces, the group picked an Angel from the tree.

“This year we wanted to include a community partner, and Autumn Park jumped right in and not only did they donate to the cause, but they did all of the shopping and wrapping for the family.”

The combined effort allowed the group to purchase gifts for a family that included nine children. Where the fund fell short, Autumn Park’s owner, Randy Jackman, donated the rest, which allowed them to purchase all of the items on the family’s wish list. This gesture of kindness was confirmed by one of the faculty’s residents, Darlene.

“We got the list, and we just went out and bought every single thing on that list thanks to Randy, who helped us make up the difference where we were short,” she said.

Jackman told St. George News that the Angel Tree Project allowed the residents to “become a part of something so much bigger than themselves.”

“This was the greatest thing for the residents who were excited to participate, and it added so much to their holiday, as well,” he said. “So it was a win-win.”

For one resident, Barbara, service is what makes the holidays so special, she said, adding that she is “one of those crazy Mormons, and we love service — any sort of service and we’ll be there to help.”

On the night the gifts were delivered to the family with nine children, Carter said the gifts and food items “filled more than a quarter of the house it seemed like. I mean there were a ton of gifts and three barrels of food that we delivered that night.”

From the ashes of despair, the Lake Foundation was born

The “Angel Tree Project” started as a small program in 2014 after tragedy struck a family with a long history of firefighting service.

The story behind the Lake Foundation, in honor of firefighter Kurtis Lake, who died in 2014 | Image created using information provided by The Lake Foundation, St. George News | Click on image to enlarge

Kurtis Lake, who served as a firefighter for 26 years — 17 of those years as a captain — died Dec. 12, 2014, of a heart attack.

His daughter, Krystle Lake, a firefighter and EMT with Santa Clara Fire at the time, responded to the call for help, not knowing until she arrived that it was her father. He died after receiving an hour of CPR.

Kurtis Lake was known for going all out with Christmas lights on his family’s house each year. He would then match the price of the home’s steep holiday power bill to spend on a family in need.

When he died, Krystle Lake was facing a hefty ambulance and doctor bill for her late father’s medical expenses. She contacted medical services hoping to work out a payment plan for the bills she could not afford to pay outright.

Instead, Krystle Lake said, they insisted on covering the bill on her family’s behalf. Inspired by this act of kindness and her father’s spirit of giving, she said she decided to start the Angel Tree Project and later formed the nonprofit Lake Foundation in July 2017.

“Without my dad, we would not all be here today,” Krystle Lake said. “This is truly in honor of him and keeping his Christmas spirit alive.”

The Angel Tree Project allowed the holidays to become much brighter for the 26 families served this year, and for a total of 72 families since the program’s launch.

For more information regarding the Angel Tree Project go to the organization’s Facebook page.

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Email: cblowers@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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