In 1991 after running in the Dallas White Rock Marathon, Jerry Gardner was resting and listening to the radio when he heard an announcement about the Salvation Army Angel Tree. Jerry told his wife, Nan, that he wanted to do something like that in Longview. From that idea, the Haverty’s/Newgate Angel Tree began to take shape.
Jerry used his connections at Haverty’s, where he worked as a manager, to pull together resources and space, and Nan used her connections as a teacher at Forest Park Middle School to identify children in need. Jack and Wynell Kuhlman were brought on board to help organize and the project was born. The first few years focused on students at Forest Park Middle School, but word soon began to spread in the community, and counselors from other schools began to call.
As the program grew, the Haverty’s/Newgate Angel Tree worked in coordination with the Salvation Army Angel Tree, Buckner Family Services, and other organizations, such as the Elf Coalition, to provide Christmas presents for children in Longview. The Elf Coalition helped each agency identify needs, share resources, and prevent overlapping services. Later, Newgate Mission, a local day mission for those impacted by poverty, was added to the work of identifying families and securing resources.
Today, the Haverty’s/Newgate Angel Tree serves families in the Longview, Pine Tree, and Spring Hill school districts, averaging approximately 400 children each year, ranging in ages from newborns to 18 years. Beginning in September each year, the volunteers begin identifying and interviewing families. The Junior League of Longview and the Waddell Sunday School class at First United Methodist Church of Longview prepare the wish lists and mail-outs each October. In November, the trees go up at Haverty’s, and both Chick-fil-A locations on the Loop and the community goes to work fulfilling the wish lists of children. All of the presents make their way to the Haverty’s warehouse where volunteers double check and triple check each wish list, assemble toys, and prepare them for delivery. This is only accomplished through the generous financial support of the community and the selfless giving of time by so many individuals.
In 2019, the core leadership of the Haverty’s/Newgate Angel Tree began preparing for the future leadership of the program and partnered with First United Methodist Church of Longview. The Missions/Outreach Ministry began training to provide oversight and coordination of the program to ensure its continuation for many years.
2020 would bring an additional challenge to the Haverty’s/Newgate Angel Tree in the form of a pandemic. With the need for social distancing and fewer crowds in the stores, the Haverty’s/Newgate Angel Tree went virtual launching their website. The new website allowed for wish lists to be selected online and special drop off dates at Haverty’s allow for contactless delivery of purchased items.
One person with a servant’s heart. One idea to help those in need. One caring community willing to love each other. This is the story of Haverty’s/Newgate Angel Tree.