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Angel Tree assists 1,154 Princeton children

HVAC students sort food.

Because of the diligent efforts of all the people working behind the scenes, the 16th annual Angel Tree effort has concluded for the year with every child adopted.


The Angel Tree program, which is sponsored by the Lions Club in conjunction with the Princeton Independent School District, totaled an estimated $86,550 in giving this year alone. Charitable contributions have exceeded a half million dollars since its inception 16 years ago, and the total is steadily creeping toward $1 million to help the community’s less fortunate children.


Before being adopted as the Lions Club’s local service project, the Angel Tree was created by the PISD transportation department as the “Fill the Bus” initiative, which has evolved into a massive communitywide effort.


Princeton’s explosive growth has brought with it more need.


For this year, Angel Tree assisted 1,154 students and 388 families. Those statistics represent assistance to 358 more children this year over 2022 and 110 additional families.

Katie Guinn and Ivette Soriano.

“We wouldn’t be able to do this without the help of all those who are working extra to make it happen,” Lions Club member and PISD Superintendent Donald McIntyre said. “This rings true every year, but it was overwhelmingly evident this year as the number of angels soared. We just want to thank everyone for being a part of this effort.”


Mr. McIntyre emphasized that Angel Tree is successful every year because of the people who make it happen.


“I’m absolutely amazed and moved by the heartfelt giving of our community,” he said. “As the applications kept coming in for our students, there were days I thought we wouldn’t get all of them adopted. I’d get frightened to think we aren’t going to be able to make it happen, but every year, it does.”


Organizers say they are always a little surprised by unexpected donors.

Peoples bank donation. 

“I got a little teary-eyed a few times when I’d hear a story from one of the several anonymous donors,” Mr. McIntyre said. “They all had stories to tell about why they were moved to help. Some of those who contributed were recipients at one point. And now they are giving $5,000, $10,000 and even $15,000.”


According to Mr. McIntyre, there is a long list of behind-the-scenes help.


“We have our secret shoppers who give of their time to purchase the gifts on behalf of the donors who contributed the funds,” Mr. McIntyre said. “There was one day when a big donation came in, and we needed to buy gifts for more than 200 angels. You couldn’t walk down the aisles at Walmart without bumping into the cart of another one of our shopping helpers.”


The PHS student groups are another significant source of assistance.

soccer teams 

“I’m so proud of all our student groups who make it their mission to provide for others,” Mr. McIntyre said. “Every year, our organizations join efforts to adopt angels. I know baseball, wrestling and soccer shop together and meet for team dinners. FFA hosted a major community event, the Barn Fest, with the sole purpose to fund their Angel Tree giving. For the past 10 plus years, the band takes up a collection at its winter concert to fund adoptions. I know there are some groups I didn’t hear about, but I always love seeing the students come in to drop off their donations.”


All this shopping and all these donations cannot get anywhere without help.


“When someone is blessed by an Angel Tree gift at Christmas, it’s likely that package was touched by someone on our maintenance crew who used their time to move donations from one building to the next so they could be sorted and distributed,” Mr. McIntyre said. “When you think about nearly 400 families, that adds up to a lot of packages.”

baseball team 

Local businesses do their part to make this tradition a success. Several locations, including Independent Financial, Peoples Bank, the City of Princeton and the Princeton-Lowry Crossing Chamber of Commerce, host Angel Trees on site to help spark adoptions.


Although there was a decline in donations for the food drive, it was also deemed a success for 2023, and Harper Elementary retained its title as food drive champion. Harper students collected more than double the number of items over the 2nd-place finisher, Lacy Elementary. Smith followed in third place, and despite having the fewest number of students, Canup brought in the 4th highest number of food items.


“Once again, our community made it happen,” Mr. McIntyre said. “With every campus in the district participating, the food drive was able to meet the needs of 100% of the Angel Tree families and help replenish the shelves of the local food pantry.”

Southard life skills 

To complement the boxes of food distributed to every Angel Tree family, the Lions Club contributed a $25 Walmart gift card to be used to purchase a turkey or ham to go with their holiday meals, which is more than $9,500 or about 440 Butterballs.


The entire effort translates to hours and hours of time volunteers had to give behind the scenes.


“We can’t thank our volunteers enough, because they enable Angel Tree to help our children,” he said. “Every donation and every volunteer hour go to help a local Princeton student and their younger siblings have a merrier Christmas.”

 wrestling team

About the photos:

The wrestling team raised $1,300 for the Angel Tree program and spent a morning shopping for their adopted angels.


The PHS baseball team adopted several angels and shopped together before bringing their contribution to the PISD administration building.


Peoples Bank President Matthew Knies presents a check to Superintendent Donald McIntyre and Casey Gunnels for the Angel Tree program.


Kent Ackmann and Ryan Gerfers’ boys and girls soccer teams had a joint team dinner and shopped at Walmart for their collective angels.


Origin Chiropractic owner Dr. Reily Renfroe collected items for the food drive and presented a donation of $1,200 for the Angel Tree.

 secret shoppers

PISD administrators worked late to set up the second distribution site at First Baptist Church, which loaned out their gym when donations exceeded the space at the PISD administration building.


Lead elf Katie Guinn and her apprentice, Ivette Soriano, organize the North Pole (aka, board room) to begin distributing gifts.


PISD secret shoppers include Bri Parker, Paige Tellez, Agueda Mayoral, Dr. Jackie Hendricks (who wrote the book on Angel Tree shopping with years of experience) and Tiffany Petersen.


PISD master data elves, Amy Ivy and Beatriz Velasco, coordinate and track all the information for the entire Angel Tree effort.

Amy Ivy and Beatriz Velasco 

Food drive pictures include:


The Life Skills class at Southard won the food drive and got to Turkey Bowl.


HVAC students sorted and boxed all food donations. Dr. Reily Renfroe with Origin Chiropractic dropped off cans donated by his patients.