BUCKHANNON – While many local programs help provide gifts for young children, the Trumps Salon Angel Tree will provide Christmas presents to 46 older kids during its seventh year.
Rondal Mitchell, the salon owner, started organizing an Angel Tree for older children after witnessing the struggles of a 14-year-old friend of his own kids.
“When my sons were 12, 11 and 9, they had a friend who was 14 [years old],” Mitchell said. “We had done an Angel Tree for little kids before, but their friend’s father passed away and he was in a situation where he couldn’t live with his mother and was living with family. I felt like at that point, there was no chance he would have a real Christmas, and I started talking to some people at the high school about who might be in need. There was not a program, so that’s how we got this started, because I wanted to be able to help high school kids who are too old for Angel Trees and get left out at the holidays. People tend to forget them because they’re older.”
The Trumps Salon Angel Tree helps kids from 12 to 18 years old.
“You see a big difference in what they ask for for Christmas, so we’re not we’re not seeing toys and things like that,” he said. “We see blankets, pillows, hygiene products, food cards, gas cards, coats — real-world items they need to survive. It’s really heartbreaking when you read some of the things these kids are asking for and why.”
Mitchell said he and his staff want to make sure these older children have a better Christmas and improve their current situations.
“These are our future leaders and the people who will be taking care of us one day, and April [Brown] and I want to set up these kids for success,” Mitchell said. “We want to be able to give them hope and let them know that the situation they’re in is not permanent — there are alternatives and there are people who love them and care about them.”
Mitchell works with Buckhanon-Upshur High School to identify the students who could benefit from the Angel Tree.
“People can come into the salon, and we have a list of our Angels,” he said. “They can go through the list, and each Angel is a little different than most Angel Trees, because we also deal with families. We have a lot of families that are in need, so we may have two or three siblings where one might be 12, one might be 14, and one might be 18, so people can come in and pick from that list. They can wrap their presents and bring them back to us, they can bring the presents to us and we’ll wrap them for them, or they could just come in and make a monetary donation and then we’ll go out and buy the presents, wrap them and do it that way.”
The majority of people who donate to the Angel Tree are clients at Trumps Salon.
“I would say 75 percent of donors are our clients, and the rest are people who see us on TV or read the newspaper articles, so they come in out of the blue,” Mitchell said. “The more we’ve done this, the more the community is finding out about it. We actually had clients in September asking when we were putting our tree up, so our clients are expecting it.”
Eddie Vincent, the Director of Wellness and Nutrition for Upshur County Schools, said he has seen the impact the Angel Tree has on students firsthand.
“On behalf of Upshur County Schools, I do want to thank Trumps Salon for what they’ve done,” Vincent said. “I was actually a high school principal when this program started. I believe and I can attest to the fact that it’s a big deal for our families and our students. They look forward to this thing, and it’s really a great program. I know our school system, particularly our high school, really appreciates the efforts of our community.”
Mitchell also highlighted their Christmas card campaign, which sends letters to children in juvenile centers throughout the state.
“Unfortunately, West Virginia has a high rate of incarceration of juvenile children — one of the highest in the nation,” Mitchell said. “We started our Angel Card program, and this is where anybody can come in, write a little note on a card to some of the kids so these kids know they’re not left out. It’s so important. A lot of these kids are going to get out, and they need to understand there is hope and their situation is only temporary, and that there is life outside of this particular situation.”