ST. GEORGE — Utah fire departments are banding together to provide 28 families in need with a Christmas they will never forget.
The Angel Tree Project began in 2014 after the father of the founder and president of the organization died unexpectedly of a heart attack less than two weeks before Christmas. Krystle Lake’s father, Kurtis Lake, served as a local firefighter for 26 years before his death and was well known for his generosity.
Krystle Lake, who is also a firefighter and EMT with the Santa Clara-Ivins Fire Department, was one of the first responders dispatched to the scene of her father’s death.
Each year, Kurtis Lake would decorate his home in a magnificent display of Christmas lights akin to the Griswold’s home in the “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” movie, his daughter told St. George News. He would then match the price of his home’s power bill and spend the funds on a local family in need.
After his death and saddled with a $7,000 ambulance and a $15,000 emergency room bill, Krystle Lake was working full time, planning a funeral, running a business and trying to set up a payment plan for the total cost. That was when she found out all of the expenses had been written off to show thanks for all her, her father and her mother had done for the community.
Inspired by the kindness the community had shown her family, Krystle Lake approached her fire chief and asked to set up a Christmas tree in the station and finding a family in need to help in honor of her father. He approved the request.
“So I went home, stole my mom’s Christmas tree and all of her decorations, and took it up to the fire station,” she said.
In the midst of calling family to report of her father’s passing and planning a funeral, Krystle Lake was now also making calls to find a family in need. Instead of finding one, the Angel Tree Project found and helped two families in its first year.
Since then, the impact has only grown. Starting only with the Santa Clara Fire Department, the Angel Tree Project now includes St. George, Washington City, Hurricane, New Harmony, Central, Salina, Draper City, Hanksville EMS, Richfield, South Jordan, West Jordan and Enterprise fire departments, as well as at the Santa Clara-Ivins and Washington City police departments.
Each of the departments takes time to deliver the presents in engines with Santa Claus riding in the passenger seat. With the family’s consent, the departments approach the house with lights and sirens to deliver Christmas.
“It’s a lot of fun, it’s a lot of work, but it’s very, very rewarding being able to pull so many people together to make something amazing happen,” Krystle Lake said.
With the help of the various law enforcement department and donations from the community, the Angel Tree Project will have been able to help over 100 families in honor of Kurtis Lake at the end of this year. This year alone, the project has helped 28 families in need with 65 barrels of non-perishable food from local businesses and has raised about $5,000 so far this year.
Chosen families, which are provided to the Angel Tree Project through the school district, are contacted in November to inform them about the program and obtain lists. Each family receives everything on their list, one to three barrels of food and a Christmas card with a gift card ranging from $100-$500.
Programs like this, she said, aren’t just necessary in Southern Utah but nationwide. Throughout her time working as a first responder, there is a dramatic increase in the number of suicide attempts closer to the holiday season.
“Going through everything I went through losing my dad, I’ve seen the bottom, I know what it looks like to be alone, I know what it looks like to fight alone, and I know what it’s like to have nothing,” she said. “To be able to bring people who truly do care together to remind people that no matter what situation you’re in that you’re beautiful, you’re amazing, and you’re not alone is important.”
From past years, Krystle Lake received a handwritten letter detailing the impact the project had on a Southern Utah mother. The anonymous woman had planned to take her life the day Krystle Lake called her to offer her help for the holidays, and the call reminded the woman she was not alone.
“If I can light up the world and make a little noise to remind people going through the holidays and a hard time that they’re not alone and there are people that care, I will light up the whole town if I have to,” Krystle Lake said.
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