PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Two hundred local kids were given Christmas gifts Thursday night during the sixth annual Angel Christmas Tree Program.
The program, hosted by Providence Recreation, began six years ago and has been continued under the leadership of Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza.
“They raised about $10,000 this year and every kid gets a brand new pair of shoes,” Elorza said.
Providence Recreation, joined by Santa, Providence College Men’s Basketball Coach Ed Cooley and many others, distributed toys to children in need at the Roger Williams Park Casino.
“The state of Rhode Island is dear to my soul,” Cooley said. “To see all you young men and women leave here with something tells you how much people love and care for you.”
Director of Providence Recreation Michael Stephens said the program is his way of paying it forward.
“When I was growing up, I knew how hard it was for my mom to give me Christmas gifts,” Stephens said.
Six years ago, Stephens decided he wanted to give back to the community where he was born. As a college basketball referee, he reached out to his fellow officials for help.
“I referee with a bunch of guys and I told them about this program,” Stephens said. “I said, ‘I need you to help me give 200 kids gifts for the year.'”
They met that goal, presenting 200 kids with presents Thursday night.
Keara Taylor has seven kids, all of whom were given Christmas gifts through the program.
“I work and stuff like that, but anything helps,” Taylor said.
In addition to the 200 kids who received presents, 100 local families also received turkeys for Christmas dinner. Cooley said he and his wife want to donate 200 turkeys to the program next year.