Above left, the Golden Angel tree in the Tupelo Chick-fil-A. Above right, volunteers delivering gifts. (Editor’s Note: This was originally published in 2019 HERE for the AFA Journal, and it is used with permission.)
Most know about the Christian principles that guide the Chick-fil-A (CFA) fast food chain. For one store in Tupelo, Mississippi, those principles are invading the local area. Trina Finley, whose husband Jamey owns a CFA franchise, founded Golden Angel Tree (GAT) in 1999 to minister to nursing home residents.
Each year, GAT continues its mission of supporting “golden angels,” that is, nursing home residents who need a special touch of the hope of Christmas. Nursing home employees collect Christmas lists from residents. Then, Finley and a volunteer team set up the golden tree full of tags with wish lists on them.
Through GAT, sponsors can donate online, or they can visit the CFA location, choose a tag off the tree, and do the shopping themselves. As a sponsor provides gifts on a resident’s wish list, the Christmas spirit comes again to some of the neediest.
“My family is so blessed,” Finley said. “The Golden Angel Tree is something we can do to give back to the community, and we should be thankful for that.”
Twenty years ago, Finley filled the first tree with only 50 tags. This year, she estimates the ministry will serve 400 residents in seven different homes. The yearly tradition of GAT brings hope to the staffs and residents at these homes.
Sponsors, GAT volunteers, and residence staff members share the true meaning of Christmas as they distribute the gifts. They are displaying love and kindness to those often forgotten. The cost of living in a nursing home facility is high. After paying fees, many are left without means to purchase gifts for themselves or others. This ministry enables the elderly to have hope and give to their families.
Dian Wilemon from Diversicare in Amory, Mississippi, said, “There was a father who wanted to give his son a University of Alabama T-shirt. He couldn’t afford it because he was here for long term care. But he asked for it as his gift and was able to re-gift it to his son. We also had a lady who would use her gifts as Santa Claus presents for her child.”
She continued, “It empowers them to be able to do something they wouldn’t normally be able to do. Some of these people buying the gifts may not ever go into a nursing home; they don’t have any idea how the gift affects those living there.”
The tree has seen requests ranging from bedding to perfume. The suggested price cap for each gift is $50, but sponsors may exceed it if they wish. Finley told AFA Journal one of her most humorous requests was from an elderly man who asked for a remote control.
“I laughed,” she said, “because even in a nursing home, some men don’t want to give up the remote.”
On a more tender note, she once had a lady ask for a baby doll. Finley assumed it would be re-gifted to a granddaughter, but instead, the woman held and talked to the baby as it were her own child.
“It broke my heart,” Finley said. “It was as if she was stuck back in time and thought it was a real baby she was rocking.”
If all tags are not chosen from the tree, Finley has volunteers who will not let anyone go without a gift. No one is left without the hope of Christmas and the love of Christ, thanks to the Golden Angel Tree.
For more information or to donate, visit thegoldenangeltree.squarespace.com.