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Angel Tree ready to glow for holiday season

Innisfail’s Dairy Queen aims to make Christmas brighter for children through the Angels Anonymous program
MVT Angel tree H
Primose Garibay, a supervisor at Innisfail Dairy Queen, left, and Paige Thomas, a restaurant shift lead, put up Angel Tree tags for customers to participate in the longstanding holiday season program to support underprivileged children. Johnnie Bachusky/MVP Staff

INNISFAIL – For the 32nd consecutive year the angels of the holiday season are shining brightly from Dairy Queen’s Angel Tree for underprivileged children.

The program is called Angels Anonymous, an Alberta Dairy Queen initiative. It has run this time of year at the Innisfail outlet since at least 1989 when local businessman Mark Kemball took over the franchise.

“The town has been very good to me. Anytime my wife and I can give back we just try,” said Kemball, noting today’s challenging times. “It has been tough for a lot of people."

This year the local Angels Anonymous program officially began Nov. 19. The Angel Tree was put up near the restaurant’s west entrance a few days earlier. The initiative for citizens to become involved has always been quite simple.

A citizen comes into the DQ wanting to buy a special gift for an underprivileged child. He or she sees the angel cards on the Angel Tree. Each card has a fictitious name of a boy or girl and an age. The citizen then chooses a card and buys a gift, and brings it back to the DQ unwrapped. The DQ then hands the gift over to Innisfail Christmas Bureau.

On Christmas Day dozens and dozens of children in Innisfail and the surrounding area receive a special gift under the tree because of the local Angels Anonymous program.

“The community knows we are a spot where you can get tags, bring us back the gifts and we give them to the Christmas Bureau,” said Kemball, adding every year his restaurant receives between 200 to 250 gifts that are immediately handed over to the Innisfail Christmas Bureau to ensure dozens of children have a special Christmas.

“Sometimes we get more. Often what we see happen is that instead of a business having a gift exchange they will say, ‘lets get tags off the Dairy Queen Angel Tree.’ And everybody goes out and buys a gift for a kid and they bring them all back here,” said Kemball.

In the meantime, Kemball has sponsored a tree at the inaugural Innisfail Festival of Trees at the Innisfail Library/Learning Centre, which officially opened its holiday season event on Nov. 19. With the Festival of Trees expected to be an overwhelming success, what does the future hold for the longstanding Angel Tree program?

He notes organizers for the Festival of Trees are trying to reach out further into the community, and he fully supports its goals.

“I think our community needs to reach out and get to as many people as we can,” said Kemball, noting the community needs as many eyes as possible to recognize those who might need a compassionate boost during the holiday season. “We are still going to continue. There is always a need in our community, in any community.”

Kemball said the Angel Tree initiative this year will end on Dec. 17, as all gifts must be turned over to the local Christmas Bureau for distribution.

For anyone wanting to participate, it’s now easier to access the local Dairy Queen. Since the third week of September, Dairy Queen has been open for drive-thru service but not for indoor dining, as per the options available under the province’s current COVID restrictions.

On Nov. 26, the restaurant is transitioning into the province’s Restrictions Exemption Program. It will allow the restaurant to offer indoor dining but all customers will be required to show proof of vaccination, or negative test results or medical exemption for patrons 12 and over. Mandatory masking is also required.