Someone recently expressed anger on social media because she had observed a parent at a major retailer returning Christmas gifts she had received for her children through the Angel Tree program. Several commenters agreed with the original poster’s sentiments, and some provided instructions on how to cross out barcodes so that items could not be returned.

For those unfamiliar with the Angel Tree program, it is a Salvation Army program that provides gifts to children in low-income families. The gifts are purchased by anonymous shoppers, or angels, who shop from a list provided by the families.

While I understand why someone might have reservations about parents returning Angel Tree gifts, I am dismayed at how quickly this woman was judged. One sympathetic person commented that maybe the family needed food more than gifts, but this was quickly shot down by people saying the family should go to a food bank.

The truth is that there are plenty of innocuous reasons why someone might choose to return Angel Tree gifts:

  • The gifts are clothing that doesn’t fit.
  • The gifts are toys the child already has.
  • The child doesn’t like the gifts.
  • The angel didn’t stick to the wish list.
  • The child or family needs more important items.

Remember that when a parent returns Angel Tree gifts, they do not receive cash. Most major retailers only give store credit.

As far as the comment about the food bank, anyone who has ever worked at a food bank or relied on them will tell you that they don’t generally provide enough food to feed a family for a month, and often, not even for a week. They offer a limited selection of food, and some children have special dietary needs or strong food preferences. Food banks are great ways to supplement the monthly food budget, but they can’t meet all of a family’s food needs.

Many of the social media commenters suggested the decision to return the gifts was immoral or cruel. Most agreed that the families should have to keep the gifts to respect the intentions of the people who bought the gifts.

The Spirit of Giving

What is the real intention of an Angel Tree gift? I think the primary purpose is to bring joy to a child at Christmastime through the act of giving. But a secondary purpose is to ease the burden of the parents who cannot afford to purchase gifts. Certainly, the child is the one who is supposed to benefit from the program. But parents returning gifts doesn’t necessarily take away from that.

It is considered a noble thing in our society to meet the needs of those less fortunate. However, we too often forget that those less fortunate are real human beings who have to struggle every day to maintain a roof over their heads, feed their children, and keep the lights on. Sometimes they have to make hard choices based on what is best for their families.

We can’t possibly know what a family goes through, and it really isn’t anyone’s business whether a parent decides to keep or exchange a gift. Who are we to judge someone less fortunate? Giving with a sense of control and obligation is more cruel than not giving at all.

A New Perspective

In general, Angel Tree gifts should go directly to the child as purchased, but I think the final decision should rest with the parents. I also think that parents should be able to make this decision without fear of judgment or retribution.

When you adopt a child through the Angel Tree program, you don’t know the family or the children. The only information you have is the short list that is written on the ornament you selected from a Christmas tree in a store. It’s hard enough to choose a suitable gift for someone you know, even a child.

Unless the list is very specific, the likelihood of selecting the wrong gift is rather high. Would you really want the family to be forced to keep a gift the child doesn’t like or can’t use? Wouldn’t it be better for your gift to be used to pave the way for the child to receive the right gift?

We’ve all received gifts we didn’t like. In some cases, we may have felt obligated to keep it out of obligation, lest we hurt the gift giver’s feelings. However, children’s gifts can generally be exchanged without hurting anyone’s feelings. Has your child ever received clothing as a gift that didn’t fit or that they just didn’t like? Wouldn’t you go and exchange it for something the child liked? Wouldn’t it be okay to do the same thing if the gift giver was anonymous?

What if the Angel Tree gifts are the child’s only presents, but none of them are what the child wanted? Wouldn’t you do whatever it took to make sure your child received at least one thing that they wanted? Why judge a struggling parent who opts not to keep a gift the child doesn’t like? Is it better to allow a child to be heartbroken on Christmas to respect some arbitrary principle just because the gift was given anonymously?

I’m not unaware that some parents probably abuse the Angel Tree program for their own gain. But I am convinced that this is the exception, not the rule. Maybe I’m naive, but I would rather be wrong believing the best about people than the worst. And I would never sacrifice a child’s happiness at Christmas just because of the few parents who abuse the program.

The Joy of Giving

Adopting a child through the Angel Tree program should be something we do with joy, and we should trust that the parents will make the right choices for their children and their families. If you’re a parent, you know how important it is to see the joy of a child on Christmas. Sometimes, when money is low, parents have to be more creative to make Christmas good.

It shouldn’t matter whether the child receives the gift you purchased, a gift the parent or child chose, or perhaps a holiday meal because of your generosity. We should give because we care. And we should trust that the parents care about their own children more than anyone, including a kind-hearted anonymous “angel.”

If you take nothing else away from my rant, please let it motivate you to think a situation through before you judge. We would all judge people a lot less if we had a chance to walk in their shoes. We don’t know what another person is dealing with every day, so the least we can do is trust that most people are doing the best they can with the resources they have.

By Candace

I'm a normal person who works from home as a professional writer. I have four grown children, a sheltie, and a cat. My passions are criminal justice reform, enjoying the beauty of nature, and surviving menopause. Oh, and I love to rant about anything and everything, which is why I started this page.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *