Angel Tree makes a difference this season


Local foster children who might not otherwise have a merry Christmas this year, will receive gifts on Christmas morning to brighten their holidays.

Angel Trees tagged with the children’s gift requests were placed at the Belen Schools administration office, the School of Dreams Academy in Los Lunas, Motor Car Mall in Peralta and Southwest Airlines Center in Albuquerque.

Deborah Fox-News-Bulletin photo: Marie Aberant, left, and Caroline Spicher, right, coordinate the Angel Tree program, which gathers gifts for foster children in Valencia and Cibola counties. Aberant is the executive director of A Safe Place, a nonprofit organization that hosts supervised visits of parents with their children, and Spicher is a program coordinator for the Los Lunas organization.

The Angel Tree program serving Valencia and Cibola counties is coordinated by Marie Aberant, executive director of A Safe Place, a nonprofit organization that hosts supervised visits of parents with their children.

A Safe Place adopted the program in partnership with Southwest Airlines more than a decade ago, and most of the gifts are purchased by Southwest Airlines employees.

“Valencia County has more than 220 foster kids right now, and there are more that are coming in every day,” Aberant said. “In all the years I’ve been in this field with these families, I’ve never seen this many.”

Cibola County has 55 children in foster care.

Trish Romero, the administration technology support manager with Belen Schools, learned about the program from Caroline Spicher, A Safe Place program coordinator. Romero asked for a tree for her office, and Spicher gave them a tree with 25 tags.

“Whenever we have a new one, we start them out really small,” Spicher said. “Trish said it went really well, and ‘Next year I’d like a tree with 50 tags.’ They want to double it and see how it goes.”

Spicher’s daughter, Brandy, attends the School of Dreams Academy and the SODA student council also requested an Angel Tree.

“The School of Dreams actually contacted me last year,” said Spicher. “The student council wanted to get involved, and they thought it would be a good idea for kids helping kids.”

Students and employees of the charter school who wanted to participate took tags to purchase the listed gifts.

Motor Car Mall employees joined in when machine shop manager John Parrish heard about Angel Trees from Aberant’s son, Michael Gorham. Parrish asked how he could get involved, and Aberant provided him with a small tree with 10 tags.

After a flexible time frame, the trees and gifts are collected by Aberant and Spicher, then they are inspected. Any missing items are purchased using gift cards.

The cards are donated, along with gifts from airlines employees for newly-added foster children and any incomplete tag list. The bags are then delivered to the Children, Youth and Families Department office in Los Lunas.

Southwest Airline employees still provide the bulk of purchases, but because Valencia County’s foster care needs continue to swell, additional help is greatly appreciated, Aberant said.

People often ask her why there is such a large need for foster care in Valencia County.

“Poverty is the great equalizer,” Aberant said. “It doesn’t matter what your ethnicity, your background, your culture, your religion — when you get in a situation where you’re looking at homelessness and no food, poor decisions get made — people self-medicate and turn to substance abuse and alcohol for relief from the crushing weight of their issues, of their life.

“That sets up a domino effect for abusing their kids, abusing their spouses, abusing their dogs — compounding even more bad decisions.”

Businesses and individuals who are interested in participating in Angel Tree can email A Safe Place at, or call Marie Aberant at 907-1674.

To learn about becoming a foster parent, visit, or call CYFD at 866-1621.

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