Every December for the past 19 years, Silverthorne’s police department has filled the town’s pavilion with piles of donated children’s gifts for local families in need. The donations come in from all over the county, bolstered by fundraising efforts by the police and a number of local organizations.
The first Adopt an Angel toy drive took place in 1994 and consisted of Silverthorne police officers bringing donated gifts to the doors of families who needed them. Word started to come in of families outside of Silverthorne who were also in need.
“We said, ‘This is a program that’s really needed. Let’s try to do something for the entire county,’” said Silverthorne Police Chief Mark Hanschmidt.
So the program grew to include all of Summit County’s police departments, the sheriff’s office, Colorado State Patrol and the fire departments and ambulance services. They work with local organizations such as the Family & Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC), the Community Care Clinic and social services to pinpoint families who are struggling financially during the holiday season.
“We’ve narrowed it down to the families that really need assistance,” Hanschmidt said, “and I think we’re there now. We’re pretty successful — it gets better and better every year. We look at what we’ve done and expand on that and try to make it as positive as possible.”
Selected families then receive a mailed invitation to come to the Silverthorne Pavilion on Dec. 19 to select two to three gifts for children of their household. Police officers will be on hand to giftwrap the presents and carry them out to the car if needed.
“The opportunity for police, fire and EMS (staff) to work directly with these families is a win win,” said Hanschmidt. “It’s good for the families, it’s good for the police officers and the fire personnel to get the opportunity to go one-on-one with members of our community and start breaking down some of those barriers. So this is just as good for us as it is for the participants in the program.”
Silverthorne police officer Misty Higby recalled one year in which a mother of three came in to look for gifts. Her youngest boy had his heart set on a bicycle for Christmas, but she was unable to afford it. As it happened, a bicycle was one of the donated items that year and was brought out to her to give to her son.
“The lady turned and looked at me and dropped on the ground crying, and was so overwhelmed with joy having that bicycle for him,” Higby said. “That’s what really makes this amazing.”
Adopt an Angel trees are set up in various locations around the county, including the Outlets at Silverthorne, the Breckenridge and Silverthorne rec centers, City Market in Dillon, Peak A Boo Toys in Breckenridge, Around the World Toys in Frisco and Red Buffalo Coffee and Tea in Silverthorne. Each tree displays ornaments that list a child’s age and gender, so donors can shop specifically for each child.
Three fundraising events, one of which has already passed, also help with donations. The Outlets at Silverthorne shopping extravaganza offered deals and prizes, with proceeds going toward Adopt an Angel.
Coming up on Saturday, Dec. 7, is the fundraiser breakfast, held at the Elks Lodge in Silverthorne and offering not only breakfast but door prizes from the Outlets at Silverthorne, Keystone Resort, Nike, Olive Fusion, the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and more. Attendees may also bring unwrapped gifts to donate.
Also on Dec. 7 is the Race of the Santas in Breckenridge at 4:15 p.m. Participants will don red-and-white Santa outfits and stampede down Main Street. Younger participants can take part in the Reindeer Race, which includes a set of antlers for each.
“It’s kind of cool to see all the Santas,” Higby said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Last year, the police department estimates, it served nearly 300 families with 600 children. Higby said that sometimes, getting enough donations is a struggle.
“We have to have enough presents to give to the families in need, and every year it seems that the families in need increase,” she said, “and it makes it tougher for us to meet those goals.”
Yet the success of the program is clear not only in its spread to various county organizations and departments, but in the volunteers as well, some of whom were previously recipients of the program.
“This program has come full circle, where we’ve been doing it long enough that we have people who are ... coming up to us and saying, ‘You know, I’m here now to help wrap presents or donate to your program, and I remember 10 years ago I was in your program. I needed the help,’” said Hanschmidt. “It is just so cool when these people are coming up to us and letting us know that we really made a difference.”