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Lakewood Ranch angel tree raises thousands for those in need

Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church parishioners raised $35,000 last year by making and selling Christmas ornaments.

These angels are made from magnolia seed pods. After spraying them for bugs, committee member Vicki Carvelli applies several coats of varnish to preserve the pods.
These angels are made from magnolia seed pods. After spraying them for bugs, committee member Vicki Carvelli applies several coats of varnish to preserve the pods.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer
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How many ways can an angel ornament be crafted?

Tough question, but the Peace and Justice Committee at Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church gets a little closer to answering it each holiday season.

“They were just little paper angels, but we thought we would raise more (funds) if they were actually something people could utilize,” member Marie Rizzi of Lorraine Lakes said. 

On Nov. 20, Rizzi hosted five members of the committee at her home for a cram crafting session. The ladies pumped out about 700 angels. The other members couldn’t attend, but they’ve made hundreds of ornaments, too. 

Angels made from spoons, toilet paper rolls, clothespins and other everyday items can have an extraordinary impact in farmworker communities through the annual Christmas Angel Tree Drive. 

Last year alone, the ornaments raised $35,000. The church puts up three large Christmas trees to display them. This year, about 1,500 angels will hang from the branches. 

Theresa Phillips is crafting angels out of felt.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer

The cost per angel is a donation, which can be $10 or multiples of $25. The money will buy Walmart gift cards. 

The recipient organizations change, but the mission stays the same. Past recipients include the Casa San Juan Bosco Housing in Arcadia and seasonal workers at Faulkner Farms in Myakka City.

“All of the children go to Nolan (Middle School) and McNeil (Elementary School) from Faulkner Farms,” Rizzi said. “They’re seasonal, like after our crop, they’ll go to Michigan together and on and on.”

Art students at Nolan have contributed to the effort for the past four years. Rizzi joked that all the ladies in the room have arthritis, but the kids don’t, so they took on the most tedious task. Their agile, little fingers assembled 2,000 tags. They also braided strings to make 100 sets of angel hair to top some of the ornaments.

Mother Nikopoia Klobe and Sister Regina Apostolorum Zambrano Borja put the angels on a tree at Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church in Lakewood Ranch Nov. 25.
Photo by Jay Heater

Last year and this year, the gift cards benefit St. Michael Catholic Church in Wauchula. The church operates an outreach center, thrift store and food bank and serves about 600 families. 

Only a small portion of the cards will buy Christmas gifts because the basic needs in the community are so great.

“They’re used wherever there is a need, so they can have dignity and start again,” said Sister Nikopoia Klobe, the director of religious education. “Somebody needed a place to stay temporarily, so we went to Walmart and got him a tent.”

This past year, most of the cards helped families start again after losing everything to Hurricane Ian. Klobe said the area was hit hard and many of the families had to stay in shelters. The cards paid for groceries, cleaning supplies and household items. 

“We save them, so we can give them out when people really need the help,” Klobe said. 



Lesley Dwyer

Lesley Dwyer is a staff writer for East County and a graduate of the University of South Florida. After earning a bachelor’s degree in professional and technical writing, she freelanced for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lesley has lived in the Sarasota area for over 25 years.

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