In November 2010, paramedic Tabietha Manes received an unexpected holiday gift: custody of her niece, Lori. Overnight, Tabietha became a mom to a three-year-old and gained the sole responsibility of a little girl who had few clothes and no toys.
That holiday season was Sunstar Paramedics’ inaugural Helping Hands Angel Tree, in which employees nominate co-workers who suffered hardships during the year to receive assistance during the holiday season. It was just in time for Tabietha’s coworkers to help her give Lori the Christmas that she deserved.
Tabietha welcomed the opportunity to create a special holiday in the midst of a tumultuous year. After accepting the Helping Hands Angel Tree nomination, Sunstar’s community outreach coordinator Charlene Cobb worked with Tabietha to get Lori’s gift wish list. Tabietha helped Lori write her list, which included a Snoopy snow cone maker, ZhuZhu Pets, Dora the Explorer books and sneakers.
Lori received every gift on her list from her Sunstar family that year. It was a great start for Tabietha and Lori, who Tabietha was able to adopt in December 2012.
“Being part of the Helping Hands Angel Tree helped relieve some of my stress about the holidays. Not having to worry about buying all of her gifts allowed me to focus on giving Lori a special Christmas experience,” said Tabietha. “I was able to put my energy towards planning special events like ice skating and cookie decorating with her friends.”
Now Tabietha and Lori pick an ornament from the Helping Hands Angel Tree each year. It’s a holiday tradition for the pair to give back to other Sunstar family members who might be facing a challenge during the holiday.
Most years, one to four Sunstar employees are selected to receive holiday assistance through the Helping Hands Angel Tree. Employees who wish to help provide gifts select an ornament that corresponds to a particular gift for one of the selected children. Once the gifts are purchased, Cobb meets each participating employee in a discreet location to give them the gifts. Parents wrap the gifts and place them under the tree before Christmas morning.
“It is the embodiment of the holiday spirit,” says Cobb. “The entire process is anonymous, so there’s no public recognition for your help. Participants do it for the simple reward of helping out a fellow member of the Sunstar family.”
Over the past four years, Sunstar employees have provided holiday gifts to more than 35 children. Often, all gift wishes are fulfilled and Sunstar provides gift cards to help the family with grocery shopping for the holiday celebration.