By Airman 1st Class C. Todd Lopez
DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. (Dec. 18, 1998) -- A good 200 toys, some with wrapping, some without, are piled under a tree that reaches at least half way to the top of the atrium in the building housing the 436th Civil Engineer Squadron. These gifts, intended for numerous children, mostly nice, but perhaps some just a little bit naughty, aren't from Santa.
But the children will never know that.
For the last nine years, said Mary-Lou Hagelberg, coordinator of the "Adopt-A-Child" program, the members of the 436th CES have been providing toys to the children of CE airmen.
"Mainly it's for our senior airmen and below and their children," said Hagelberg.
Hagelberg and her husband, Master Sgt. (ret.) Paul Hagelberg came up with the idea nearly a decade ago.
"We both work at CE. This was a way for him to give something back after 27 years of active duty," said Hagelberg.
CE airmen are selected for the program by members in their chain-of-command.
"The first sergeant gives us a list of names," said Hagelberg. "He comes up with a list or their supervisors suggest them.
"We put a number for each child on the list. We put their age and whether they are a boy or girl. Then we distribute the list to all the shops and the flights in the squadron. They will call up and say 'Give me number four, the two year old boy!'"
After a shop or flight chooses a child to sponsor, they are required to provided at least six gifts for that child, said Hagelberg.
"The entire squadron participates," said Master Sgt. Ricardo Rodriguez, 436th Civil Engineer First Sergeant. "Every flight volunteers to sponsor a child. Everybody takes it pretty seriously, and not everybody goes out and buys gifts. A lot of people hand-craft gifts, like toy airplanes and hand- made baby quilts for the dolls."
This year, some 22 children and their parents will benefit from the generosity of CE members.
"There are so many people that struggle during the holidays," said Tech. Sgt. Carrie Dobos, co-coordinater of the program for eight of it's nine years. "The parents appreciate it."
"We really do appreciate it. It's a wonderful feeling," said Senior Airman Kimberly McKinney, a mother of two children. "When you have just one income, as in my case, CE provides almost 90 percent of my presents. In the first year it was almost 100 percent. I couldn't afford anything. I've been here for three Christmases. Every Christmas CES has provided gifts. The CES cares for each other so much."
Really, the Adopt-A-Child program is as much about the children who receive the gifts as it is about their parents, active, hard-working members of the CES.
"I think the squadron is a bunch of unsung heroes. And I know I'm getting on the soap box here," laughed Hagelberg, "but these kids bust their behinds fixing sewer pipes and leaking roofs. This is just our way of saying thank you, our way of saying 'We care about you.'"
"We want to spread the Christmas cheer and take care of each other around the squadron," said Rodriguez. "You know, this is just a small thing we can do for our families here in CE. It's funny that Year of the Family is coming about just this year, because we've had Year of the Family here in CE for nine years."