Angel Network gives back: Return of annual gift drive lifts spirits during holidays


Over 180 students received boxes of canned goods, gift cards, and holiday treats through the Angel Network’s holiday gift box initiative on Dec. 8. Photo by Beth Brown.

Rylee Dang and Sydnie Howard

This previously ran in our December 2021 print issue. 

Boxes filled to the brim with non-perishable foods and hygiene products, sit lined in rows inside the Lutheran Church of Holy Spirit, just a block away from Emmaus High School. 

Beyond them stand tables, complete with stuffed animals, comforters, blankets, hoodies, sweatshirts, and extra canned goods. On racks are gently used winter jackets and coats alongside fresh produce and gallons of milk, ready to be picked up. Not even minutes after the distribution begins at 3 p.m, 18 cars line up by the church while families begin walking through the doors to pick up what they need for the winter. 

Providing basic necessities to students in need, supporting their ability to focus in school, and upholding the ideal of the true “spirit of community,” the Angel Network gives confidential assistance to Emmaus students in need all year long. As a volunteer-run non-profit, members of the community step out of their homes for the sake of the students, working on their own time to help those in need. Many of their volunteers no longer have students in the district, however, they still dedicate their time to the organization. 

Every year, the Angel Network organizes a holiday gift drive, trying to brighten the day for students who may not receive Christmas gifts for the year. Typically, students would fill out a wishlist, including a few items they wanted to receive that year. However, with restrictions due to the pandemic, organizers decided to turn to gift cards last year, handing out $25 cards to either Walmart or Target. 

Giving the students the choice to purchase anything they want, the Angel Network plans to keep this method in upcoming years. For the cards, they reached out to teachers in Emmaus, asking them to donate a gift card if possible. They received an outpour of support, with over 90 cards purchased for students.

Audrey Polce, a volunteer at Angel Network, is in charge of the holiday gift drive, the organization’s Facebook, and their website, and feels passionate about the work they do for students in the community.

“Anybody can be in the same boat as these people at any given time,” Polce said. “All kids are our kids. And that’s how we feel.”

Polce has been volunteering at Angel Network since 2005, having been through the organization’s changing efforts to provide for students and families each year. 

“People think that EPSD is a rich school district, but it’s not,” Polce said. “Angel Network is by far the largest in expanding the number of programs we do. And it’s probably because of the sheer resources and money that we get.”

Services provided through the Angel Network span a wide variety of needs for students who require help. Through constant fundraising and events, the team raises money for school supplies, field trips, and food for students needing financial assistance. The volunteers generate funds to donate to any student or family requesting aid, and the money that the group raises is given out on a case-by-case basis. 

The Angel Network distributed their holiday boxes at The Lutheran Church of the Holy Spirit in Emmaus, across from Emmaus High School. Photo by Beth Brown.

One day, a teacher may notice that a student has been wearing the same clothes for a week, or is wearing a T-shirt and shorts in freezing weather because it is one of the only outfits they own. When they realize that there may possibly be a student in need of assistance, the Angel Network liaison at Emmaus High School is contacted. From there, the Angel Network will coordinate with guidance to ensure that the student is able to receive any help they need and determine how much they can assist with their situation. The program also has a list of individual “Angel Givers” who give donations essentially on-call to individuals when needed.

Sara Burk, a school counselor at Emmaus, acts as the “middleman” between the student and the Angel Network as the liaison, helping to bring the services to the students who need it.

“New requests pop up all the time,” Burk said. “As long as we have the money, we will help in any way that we can. We just want to make it equitable for all students. I mean, there shouldn’t be any reason, especially in the community we live in, for a student not to be able to participate in something because they don’t have the resources to do so.”

The Angel Network believes that “all kids are our kids” according to their website, which is shown in their determination to raise as much money and items as possible for families in need. Through introducing different methods of fundraisers to support students through the district, they have been able to put together numerous care packages and item boxes to assist during the holidays.

Months before the holiday drive began, starting in October, the Angel Network reached out to classes at Emmaus, asking for donations of cans of tuna. Students were asked to bring in cans of tuna to compete against other classes, trying to finish with the highest number of cans per student. While the competition was good fun for the students, the underlying intentions for supporting those with food insecurity were more important. 

All of their collections leading up to December have been for their annual holiday food box donations. Boxes upon boxes of different foods, hygiene products, and gift cards are made, with the intention of making the holiday season easier on families. Compiling donations from the football team, the tuna drive, a 55-and-over living community, and a number of other generous donors, the Angel Network was able to put 40 to 45 items in each box. They also had coats, bedding, and laundry detergent available to those picking up.

The Student Government Association, SGA, works alongside Angel Network to assist students throughout the year. Besides planning events for the students, SGA holds drives and offers opportunities to donate to those in need. 

With the holiday season approaching, SGA organized the W.I.S.H. campaign, a series of four different donation drives to benefit organizations in the community. Beginning on Nov. 8 and ending on Dec. 10, donations were collected for different organizations around the Lehigh Valley, one being the Angel Network. Collecting a variety of items depending on the needs of the organization, SGA was able to give back to the community. 

Maryn Schellenberg, junior at Emmaus and member of SGA, assisted with the collection for the holidays.

“SGA is always working on one event or another throughout the school year,” said Schellenberg. “SGA’s December events really focus on giving back to the school community and bringing all of SGA and every charitable organization at the school together for a good cause.”

For Emmaus High School, the Angel Network is an invaluable resource for the less fortunate families. With countless student and faculty volunteers, its many fundraisers display the unceasing humility the community has.