Adopt an Angel program celebrates 20 years of giving toys to Summit County children in need |

Adopt an Angel program celebrates 20 years of giving toys to Summit County children in need

Last year, the Adopt an Angel program helped about 250 families and 500 children. The program is a joint effort between local law enforement, the fire departments and ambulance services.
Mark Fox / Summit Daily |

Adopt an Angel

Gift donations: visit to find a full list of retailers where ornament trees can be found, or contact your local police or fire department. Donations will be accepted through Wednesday, though having them sooner will help organizers.

Monetary donations: Those who don’t wish to shop but still wish to donate may do so through PayPal online at, by hand delivery to your local police or sheriff’s office, or by mailing a check to:

Adopt an Angel

Silverthorne Police Department

601 Center Circle, PO Box 1167

Silverthorne, CO 80498

Volunteers: Call the Silverthorne police department at (970) 262-7320

Questions: For more information, visit

While the children of Summit County may be envisioning legions of elves hard at work in the North Pole this Christmas, it turns out there are holiday forces at work even closer than they think.

On Thursday, Dec. 18, the Silverthorne Pavilion will transform into its own version of Santa’s workshop, filled with tall piles of toys donated by Summit County residents and businesses, all set aside for local children in need.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Adopt an Angel program, run through joint effort by county police and fire departments, the sheriff’s office and ambulance services.

“It was just the need that we saw in the community … we can come up with something to help with that.”
Mark Hanschmidt
Silverthorne police chief


Each year, organizers collect a list of local families that are currently struggling financially, by working with organizations such as the Family & Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC), Summit Community Care Clinic, social services, the school district and local churches.

Christmas trees bearing ornaments with the age and gender of a child are distributed to multiple locations throughout the county — from stores at the Outlets at Silverthorne, to the City Market in Dillon, to any local police, fire or sheriff department. Those interested in donating can choose one or several ornaments and buy a gift to match, then drop it off at the police or fire department.

Families then receive a letter in the mail, inviting the parents to come to the Silverthorne Pavilion where all the presents have been gathered, to pick out several, free of charge, for their children.

Volunteers are on hand to check people in, help with selection and then wrap up the chosen gifts.

“It’s a great feeling, knowing that we’ve been able to help so many people in our community,” said Silverthorne police chief Mark Hanschmidt. “Every year it’s just a little bit tougher and tougher to make ends meet, and this is just one small part that I believe that it helps people have a great Christmas.”


Hanschmidt was instrumental in starting the Adopt an Angel program back in 1994. At that time, it involved only the Silverthorne Police Department and those living within the city limits.

“We would wrap their presents between our calls,” police sergeant Misty Higby recalled. Officers would then personally deliver the gifts to each household. “It was really very rewarding to be able to do that.”

The idea for the program was sparked by observation, Hanschmidt said. “It was just the need that we saw in the community, when officers were going to houses and seeing that there’s nothing under the trees and people were asking for help, it’s like yeah, we can come up with something to help with that.”

However, it became apparent that similar need extended beyond the borders of Silverthorne.

“We started having issues with people trying to take advantage of the program, be part of the program that didn’t live in city limits. So that was a red flag to me and I thought you know, let’s open this up county side and we’ll do this for the entire county, and not just our city,” Hanschmidt said.

Now the program has extended to all county police departments, including the sheriff’s office, fire department and ambulance services, and addresses the needs of children all throughout the county. Last year, the program served an estimated 250 families, and about 500 children.

“People are spending their money on food, that’s great, (but) they’re sacrificing toys for their kids,” said Hanschmidt. “Well, we’re here to help with that.”


The years have been full of emotionally charged moments. Higby recalled one year when a mother came in at the end of the day, apologizing profusely.

“‘I don’t want to ask you this but at the same time I have to think about my family and let my ego go aside,’” Higby remembered her saying. She mentioned that her son had always wanted a bicycle but they had never been able to afford one. It just so happened that there was one left, in the back, just the right size. When they brought it out “she fell to the ground, to her knees, and wouldn’t stop crying,” Higby said. She paused. “That’s what this program is all about.”

Hanschmidt remembered one year when police officers were called to help a family whose car had broken down while passing through on Christmas Eve. They set them up with a motel room, but the three young children were upset.

“They were just devastated, because Santa wasn’t going to be able to find them,” he said. Their parents were financially struggling to take care of repair costs for the car, so the police dug into their reserves left over from the event.

“While the kids were sleeping, the officers went by and delivered a great big bag of toys for those kids.”

Another time, he and the other volunteers were working on setting up the gifts in the pavilion and they ordered a pizza for lunch. When the delivery woman arrived, Hanschmidt asked her if she was ready for Christmas. She admitted that working multiple jobs hadn’t left much leeway for holiday shopping, despite Christmas being just a few days away.

“I took her into the pavilion where all these toys were, and toys were stacked up, and I said you pick out anything in this place you want for your son,” he said. “She did, and she picked out this great remote control car, and she was so happy. And that’s it — it’s the spirit of doing good for people.”


Despite people from all departments chipping in their time, counting on a group of more than 50 volunteers helps the program succeed, Higby said.

“If it wasn’t for the volunteers, we couldn’t do it.”

Anyone can volunteer by contacting the Silverthorne Police Department, to lend a hand checking people in, gift-wrapping or cleaning up.

Hanschmidt also emphasized the importance of the local community in the program’s continued success.

“This community is fabulous,” he said. “People in Summit County reach out and they help those that are in need. This county is fabulous for that.”

The best part of the program, he added, has been coming into contact with those whom it’s helped. During a recent trip to the Outlets at Silverthorne to buy gifts for the program, he met just such a person.

“The clerk behind the counter, she said, ‘You know, many years ago my family took advantage of the Adopt an Angel program, so you guys provided gifts for my family’ and now, here’s this adult standing in front of me, she said, ‘Now I want to give back to the program.’ So it’s come full circle.”

Another benefit of Adopt an Angel is the connection it provides his officers with members of the community, Hanschmidt said.

“All of the officers, when they’re helping families picking out gifts on Thursday, they’ll all be in uniform, they’ll have their guns on, they’ll have their badges, and my thought is by having that positive interaction with the community like this, some of the people that may never feel comfortable walking up to a cop will feel comfortable participating in this program. It’s breaking down some of those barriers, and that’s what community policing is all about — building that partnership and breaking down the barriers. That’s what we do.”

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