Angels on the ground here in Helena

By Mary Anderson

You may have missed this on the news, but there has been a flurry of angel sightings throughout the stores in Helena, Montana, over the past month and a half. In fact, over 800 Helena School District students have benefitted from their kindness. These angels have stood at the courtesy counters of local retail stores for countless hours paying for school clothes and warm outerwear for kids who would otherwise go without. At a time when we are giving thanks for our blessings, I would like to extend my gratitude to the “debit card angels” of the Angel Fund: Cynthia Mulvaney, Connie Vergine, Susan Nimick, Janet Walsh, Ray Pancich, Patty Mazurek, Jodi Robertson and Laura Trapp.

I am fortunate to serve as the Angel Fund Coordinator at C. R. Anderson Middle School. I am the lucky recipient of happy hugs, the admiring spectator of countless fashion shows, and a witness to tear-filled thank yous from parents and students who benefit from the Angel Fund’s efforts. It is humbling to hear the stories from these families: an unexpected medical condition, an unforeseen layoff, or a move to our community, hoping for more opportunities and less crime than where they are coming from. Each parent has his/her own story. What they share, however, is their gratitude that someone is willing to provide necessities for their child at a time when they are unable to do so.

This July, the Angel Fund began its twenty-fifth year serving the Helena community. Marcia Wall began the program while serving as a school counselor at Helena Middle School. Initially, she informally reached out to community benefactors who shared her desire to provide gym shoes, a backpack, or money for a field trip to students who would otherwise go without. By 2001, her Angel Fund budget had grown to $15,300.00 and was helping students throughout the Helena School District. This number is remarkable, but pales when compared to the $96,392.00 that has been spent on clothing for students in the past six weeks. In addition to providing school clothing, the Angel Fund has also initiated programs like Stuff the Bus, Running for Montana’s Future, and scholarships to both first year and returning college students to help with their education, making our total expenses since July 1st a staggering $114,000. One of our scholarship recipients recently sent us this thank you: “I will never be able to express how grateful I am to receive this scholarship. You have made my dreams closer and this opportunity has encouraged me. You have helped a slightly less than fantastic girl feel like she can reach the stars. Thanks for taking a chance on me!”

The Angel Fund works because we live in a community that believes we really can change the world, one child at a time. Your generous support and volunteer efforts are what makes the Angel Fund so successful. Thanks to all of you, as well as United Way, for providing financial support! Thank you to the 60 churches and businesses this past summer that collected enough school supplies to help over 1,000 students in the greater Helena area. Thanks to the Helena Police Department, Attorney General’s office and Angel Fund for coordinating the Running for Montana’s Future Race, whose proceeds were used to buy proper athletic shoes for more than 400 children in the past 5 years. And finally, thank you to the twenty-five angel coordinators at each of the Helena School District buildings, who make sure their students in need are served by our organization.

On December 1, we invite you to celebrate our success and future with us at On Broadway. From 5:30-9:30 p.m., fifty percent of all proceeds their restaurant receives will be donated to The Angel Fund. We will also be hosting a silent auction, featuring items from local artists Marty Scanlon, Ginger Agee, Emily Free Wilson, Sarah Jaeger, Joan Wescott, Dr. Joel Maes, Kenton Rowe, and Jeff Lovely. In addition, Al Swanson is donating a custom made wooden fly box, Topper’s is donating a bottle of wine, and Mountain West is donating a framed print of the Four Georgians by Shorty Shope. Angel Fund is also grateful to Ghost Art Gallery who each year donate the framing of various art pieces for our silent auction.

We have dedicated our twenty-fifth year to the memory of Cleve Malmstrom, Marcia’s son, who passed away this past summer. At Cleve’s memorial service, his cousin spoke about his giving heart and about how he always saved food for the homeless people who hung outside his place of employment during his time at the University of Montana. She was most impressed, however, by the fact that he knew each homeless person by name, instinctively believing that every person should have value and opportunity, simply for being human. We are happy to continue his legacy through our organization and encourage each of you, in some way, to make someone else’s load a little bit lighter this holiday season. Please consider helping one child in need this Christmas by making a donation to Angel Fund, P.O. Box 7436, Helena, MT 59604 or visit our website for more information

Here are the values that I stand for: honesty, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you want to be treated and helping those in need. To me, those are traditional values. Ellen DeGeneres

Mary Anderson is a C. R. Anderson Middle School Counselor, Angel Coordinator and debit card angel (published in the Helena Independent Record, Your Turn, November 18, 2014).