Chapel delivers Angel Tree Donations to Okinawan Schools
KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Angels riding in government vehicles and minivans delivered joy and presents to a local orphanage and school Dec. 16 and 17 in Okinawa, Japan.
A time-honored tradition at Kadena Air Base, the Angel Tree program provides people with the opportunity to pass along the holiday spirit to others. The 18th Wing Chapel manages the program and this year the event was coordinated by the Catholic Women of the Chapel.
"The angel tree was started by the Kadena Catholic community," said Chaplain (Capt.) Emmanuel Okwaraocha. "It's been around for years and become a tradition. It's a very nice program that starts three to four weeks before Christmas."
From mid-November to mid-December two large trees are placed within the church with tags shaped like angels. Tags hang on the trees with the genders and ages of the school children who the gifts are for.
Typically, 150 to 300 children have angels on the tree and the amount spent per gift averages from $20 to $30. This year, there were 450 angels on the tree and within two weeks all of the angels were gone. People on and around Kadena Air Base raised more than $15,000 worth of presents.
"This year we delivered to two institutions," Okwaraocha said. "Kakazu Junior-High School, an orphanage near Naha, and Misaki Special Needs School in Misato here on Okinawa."
During the delivery of gifts to the Misaki Special Needs School, chapel volunteers hand carried three vanloads worth of gifts into the school and one volunteer dressed as Santa Clause greeted children in their classrooms.
"It was really nice to have you all and a 'real Santa' at our school," said Naoya Toguchi, Misaki Special Needs School vice principal. "As you saw, all of the children's faces showed how thankful they were. One of the teachers said he's never seen his students this excited before and they really enjoyed it."
Danielle Santos, 18th Wing Chapel pastoral coordinator, said the Angel Tree program is not only for the religious.
"Whether you are a nonbeliever, Protestant, Baptist or Gospel, you can pick up a tag and donate," Santos said. "Giving back is what it's really about. It's very exciting to see people that really want to help and share what they have."
Not only is the Angel Tree program a great way to spread holiday cheer, but it is also meant to strengthen positive relations with the community that hosts the American forces.
"We are committed to peace in the Pacific" Okwaraocha said. "It is important to let them know, we love them, care for them and that we are here for peace."