Miracle Cantzlaar (left), co-chair of the Angel Tree Project, and Pearl Damanka present gifts to students at Garrison Elementary School in northwest D.C. on Dec. 12. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)

It is a huge task, but 700 children in the District will enjoy the holidays a little bit more when they receive gifts from the annual Angel Tree Project.

The initiative is coordinated by the 100-member Chapel Assistants group at Howard University’s Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel. For 18 years, this holiday project has received donated gifts and financial contributions from Howard University campus organizations, alumni and worshippers at Rankin Chapel. Donations have been collected since October.

The Angel Tree Project is coordinated by Howard juniors Samantha Jenkins, a psychology major/business assistant minor from Dallas, and Miracle Cantzlaar, a biology major/psychology minor from the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

As time for distribution comes closer, Jenkins and Cantzlaar anticipate the reaction from children who will receive gifts.

“Oh, I’m thinking we’re just trying to bring some gifts,” Jenkins said. “But then I realize these gifts bring the holidays to them.”

The gifts, which include toys, sports equipment and books, will be delivered to seven D.C. Public Schools, one day care center and two homeless shelters.

“I can’t wait for a kid open a note with one of the gifts and see their excitement,” Cantzlaar said.

To ensure enough help with the massive gift-giving project, Jenkins and Cantzlaar reached out to more than 600 former Chapel Assistants from Rankin Chapel.

“Once a Chapel Assistant, always a Chapel Assistant,” Jenkins said.

The Angel Tree Project is one of the many ways that the role of the Chapel Assistants has expanded over the years. Bernard L. Richardson, dean of Rankin Chapel and associate professor for Pastoral Care and Counseling, started the Chapel Assistants group when he came to the historic chapel in 1993.

As a unified campus activity, the project seeks to show others that the Chapel Assistants go beyond helping with the Sunday Rankin Chapel worship service.

“It’s a collaborative effort, not just a Chapel Assistants project,” Cantzlaar said. “We reached out to Howard University students, alumni, faculty, anyone who wants to help.”

To promote the need of gifts for 700 children and to recruit for volunteers, announcements were included in campus publications and radio interviews were done. Project coordinators desired to show that Howard University is giving back to the D.C. region.

This is Jenkins’ second year with the Angel Tree Project. She knows that everyone will have warm memories from this years’ experience.

“Kids just tell it like it is,” Jenkins said of sharing gifts with deserving children. “In five seconds, you can become a child’s best friend and that is so amazing.”

Brenda Siler is an award-winning journalist and public relations strategist. Her communications career began in college as an advertising copywriter, a news reporter, public affairs producer/host and a...

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