Started 13 years ago for 250 children, this program provides each student with a new outfit of clothes, a backpack, hygiene kit, dental kit and all their school supplies. Kelley organizes an army of volunteers, churches, businesses and service organizations to donate and sponsor children registered in the program. Each item of clothing is selected for the individual child; the school supplies are appropriate for that child’s classroom and the backpack is selected by the child from the over one thousand which have been purchased. Kelley estimates the value of each child’s bag to be approximately $100.
This is a faith-based program affiliated with the Helping Hands Ministry. The children enrolled in the Apple Tree program are primarily part of that ministry’s extended family.
Kelley, a former principal in Belton, said, “We are working on faith. God has always taken care of the children, and we have never had a child who was not served. The children and their families will be lined up on the sidewalk at 7 a.m. waiting for those doors to open.”
When the doors open, two registration desks begin to process each child’s package. The parents must present proof of attendance at a Belton school and a birth certificate. At that time, the child is given a number that corresponds to the one on the package that has been prepared. The backpack is chosen and a table of religious information is available for those who are interested. The Bell County Health Department provides free immunizations (not necessarily on sight) and the Belton Police Department has a station for child identification services.
Kelley works tirelessly with her volunteers, many of whom have been with her since the program’s inception. She praises the Belton community for its amazing power to give.
“This is a true ministry,” she said. “We love the children because God loves them.”
It is this belief in God, community and people that makes this project work. As we spoke about the project, Kelley related a moment in time that she has never forgotten. It was close to Apple Tree day several years ago and Kelley had many children’s names with no sponsors. She was overwhelmed because no child had ever been left out of the program. As she wondered and worried about these children, a colleague observed that, though this problem seemed like a mountain to her, to God it was only a grain of sand. With her faith restored, Kelley went on to fill all the children’s packages and, once again, no child went without.
On July 30, the volunteers were in action as they filled the hygiene bags. This bag consists of a bottle of shampoo, a washcloth and a bar of soap. When Kelley first started Project Apple Tree, the hygiene kit was not part of the package, but it was something she always wanted to include. Her prayers were answered when the local chapter of Altrusa International elected to provide the products, and the volunteers to put the kits together. Leticia Caraveo and her husband, Juan, 79 Altrusa volunteers and at least 50 other people showed up to bag the personal products and get them ready to be included in the clothing package.
“This is a good program, and people love to come and give a helping hand,” Leticia Caraveo said.
“This grass roots, hands-on, face-to-face project is a true community ministry,” concluded Kelley.