Little tree lighters get holidays off to a cheerful start

November 15, 2021
Five children help light the Angel Tree.
Young relatives of Dr. Charles Darby join Mike and Cathy Michels, captains with the Salvation Army, to light the Angel Tree at the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children's Hospital. Photos by Sarah Pack

This was it. The big moment had finally arrived. The children were gathered in front of the Angel Tree outside the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital, ready to flip a switch and light it before a crowd of smiling faces. They were dressed in their holiday finest, a basket of candy canes beside them.

Chief Medical Officer Mark Scheurer, M.D., told the children he’d be counting from one to three, then they’d light the tree. But things didn’t quite go as planned. “One,” he started — and the kids turned on the lights.

The crowd laughed and applauded. Angel Tree season at the Medical University of South Carolina was off to a cheerful start.

The Angel Tree program is run by the Salvation Army. It takes applications from parents who need help getting gifts for their children. Then people “adopt” those angels and buy toys, clothing and other items for the parents to give their kids during the holidays. There will be tags with those children’s first names and wish lists across campus for employees, students and anyone else who wants to take one. While MUSC is the largest source of donations in the Charleston area, other organizations take part as well, so you may see Angel tags in other locations.

Salvation Army Captains Mike and Cathy Michels speak at podium as doctors David Zaas and Mark Scheurer listen. 
Mike and Cathy Michels, captains with the Salvation Army, thank MUSC for its leading role in the Angel Tree program as Drs. David Zaas and Mark Scheurer listen.

This year’s kickoff ceremony featured Charles Darby, M.D., and his family — including the little tree lighters. Darby is the former chair of the Department of Pediatrics who helped create the first MUSC Children’s Hospital and played a key role in developing its replacement, the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital.

Melissa Kubu, leader of the Angel Tree effort at MUSC, said the family wasn’t just there to celebrate. They were also honoring the memory of Darby’s wife, Joyce.

“She passed away this year, and in memory of her, much of the family — children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren – all came to light the tree. Ms. Darby used to come to the Children's Hospital and decorate the atrium. She would pay for all the decorations and would bring her children to help decorate, to help them understand the importance of doing that for the families and the children who are staying here during the holidays.”

That spirit of giving moves others, each year, to buy presents for children they’ll never meet. David Zaas, M.D., chief executive officer for MUSC Health's Charleston Division and chief clinical officer for MUSC Health, said the partnership with the Salvation Army started in 2003.

“It's based on the foundation of our values. This event represents the compassion that we know our team members show and that Salvation Army in our community does. It couldn’t be more important,” Zaas said. “Over 20,000 children have been impacted.”

Charles Darby with children at Angel Tree lighting sitting in front of tree. 
Dr. Charles Darby and young relatives sit in front of the Angel Tree, which is visible to drivers on Calhoun Street behind them.

Mike and Cathy Michels, captains with the Salvation Army, were on hand for the tree lighting, too. “Thank you for the ongoing partnership with MUSC for adopting almost over half of our children this year so far,” Mike Michels said. “We want to remind you that hope marches on. There's still a pandemic. There are still health impacts. There are still economic effects. But that doesn't mean that we, as a community, can't reach out and help each other. Thank you for leading the charge in that.”

Kubu encouraged people to take part in the program. The day to deliver Angel gifts at MUSC is Dec. 7, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., in the Horseshoe. “We are doing the drive-through drop-off again this year, encouraging people to decorate their cars, decorate themselves and come in their best holiday attire. This is in lieu of the parade because we just felt like with COVID, we don't want to encourage large gatherings. And we're just trying to be respectful that we are still in a pandemic.”

Kubu is looking for volunteers to help once all of those gifts have been dropped off. “On Dec. 7, we will take all of our gifts up to the Convention Center. Distribution days to the families are Dec. 15 and 16. So up until that time, we have to go through every single bag to make sure the gifts are appropriate. That there are enough gifts that every single child receives a gift, even if the Angel wasn’t taken. We will make sure they receive gifts.”

She’s also looking for people to assemble donated bikes and get the gifts into families’ cars on pickup day. “We want to give back to our community. It's not something that's expected, it's just something that's done. It brings everyone together,” Kubu said. “MUSC is so big, and yet somehow, we all come together to do it for the greater good of our community.”

To volunteer, email Kubu.

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About the Author

Helen Adams

Keywords: Pediatrics