If it is more blessed to give than to receive, then many individuals in the local agricultural community are feeling extremely blessed in the aftermath of Christmas because the 2012 Ag Angels program was, even in a difficult economic time, a success.
"In these economic times we did better than expected," said Scott Kirouc, president of the Highlands Chapter of Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association, the organization that sponsors Ag Angels. "We raised about $15,000 this year and were able to adopt more schools. Schools in Highlands County and two in Hardee County got a check for $1,000 to provide Christmas presents to children who need them."
The money is provided to the schools, but the teachers must agree to shop for the children. No cash or certificates are given.
"We were very blessed this year and every penny we took in was distributed to the schools or to the Children Advocacy Center," he said. "We don't keep any funds for administrative costs. This allows us to provide a Christmas for many children in Highlands and Hardee County who, without the Ag Angels program, would go without. Many of them do not ask for their wants, they ask for their needs."
Christmas Ag Angels started three years ago when Kirouac visited his grandson's elementary school and donated money for the Christmas season. Realizing he wanted to help others in their time of need during the Christmas season, he asked the staff at his grandson's school "if I donate money for Christmas gifts, would you do the shopping and distribute the gifts for those children in need?"
Organizers do request the schools send a letter to them describing how the program worked. The letters are sent out next year to help with the next year's fundraising.
A letter from the staff of the Sebring Middle School about the 2010 Christmas season stated, "I wish I could begin to describe how many lives you have touched with your generous "Ag Angels" gift to our school. With your help we were able to fill wish lists for students. But it is more than just toys and games. Most of our kids asked "Santa" for things like underwear, socks, and deodorant. Things that many kids these days take for granted … As we wrap the needed gifts and put them in the boxes, we also wrap the wanted gifts and imagine how happy they will be when they unwrap the "MP3 players like the other kids have" and the "big stuffed dog I can sleep with" or the "heart necklace like the kid at the mall had." …most of the parents were speechless when we unloaded their gifts, and many of them openly cried and hugged us in appreciation. We quietly whispered that the Ag Angels were happy to help."
Kirouac said the organization has discovered if fundraising letters are sent out in October they are often lost on desks or in emails so the letters are sent out just before Thanksgiving, a get-your-funds-in-now because-time-is-short appeal.
That puts a bit of a crunch for county teachers because by the time the money is distributed, there is not a great deal of time to shop. But the teachers have dedicated themselves to the task and have done a wonderful job, Kirouac said.
"We are just so pleased and satisfied that our 'Angel' program was so successful, even in a tough economic year and that we could provide a Christmas for so many local children," he said.