PHOENIX — An empty Christmas tree sits near the entrance of Elevate Coffee Company in North Phoenix with a single paper tag that reads, "come back tomorrow."
"We’ve just had people calling and taking an extra ticket," said Chelsea Carll, a supervisor at the shop. "Some other businesses aren’t doing it this year."
The Christmas Angel Tree program is well known across the Valley. The program has been in place for more than 30 years to help kids in need during the holidays.
Elevate Coffee Company is one of only a handful of stores this year participating in the program. COVID-19 forced the program to downsize from providing approximately 50,000 gifts a year to only about 10,000 in 2020.
"They provide gifts for children of incarcerated parents primarily and then other needy families and other organizations that fall between the cracks and don’t have a gift for kids," said Paul Sorensen, a spokesperson for Elevate Coffee Company.
The program provides participating stores with a tree and paper tags in place of ornaments. Every tag represents a child in need and includes their name, age and what they want for Christmas.
Carll says when employees first put up the tree the week before Thanksgiving, they saw a smaller but steady stream of customers taking tags and later returning with gifts. As customers donated, the store added more names to the tree.
This week though, things slowed down. On Thursday, there were more tags left on the tree than ever before.
“We have about a half full tree at all times but to see a full tree it was a little concerning," said Carll. "That’s each individual person’s Christmas experience.”
Friday was the deadline for donations, according to Carll. When employees saw how many names were left, they decided to extend the donation period through the weekend.
That changed in a matter of hours Friday after a customer posted a photo of the tree on social media asking for help in getting gifts for the children whose tags hadn't been touched.
"[We saw] somebody posted that there was a lot on there and hadn’t been fulfilled yet," said Curtis Park. "So, we came up here to grab a bunch of them and do as many as we could.”
Park and his family picked up gits for 22 children. "2020 is been a hard year for everybody," said Julie Palgen, who sat inside the coffee shop for hours Friday. "To see people just give out of their own pockets to help these kids is just an amazing feeling.”
She too decided to donate as a result and picked up a tag with a little girl's name on it. "She wanted a jacket," added Palgen. "Things that we take for granted. She wanted a jacket."
By closing time Friday, the tree was bare. "I walked in here and thought there’s no way we’re going to get all these gifts for the kids," said Sorensen. "It’s amazing how people have responded.“
Elevate Coffee Company says they plan to continue with their planned donation extension. They plan to connect with the Angel Tree Program and get more name tags to re-stock the tree Saturday morning, and accept gifts through Monday.