It started as an anonymous good deed

It became Angels Bearing Gifts, a small, well-regarded Santa Barbara non-profit with a mission unique among non-profits in the United States.

In 1999, Evelynn Smith and her daughter, Michelle, a person with developmental disabilities, delivered holiday gifts to nine people with developmental disabilities. Unlike Michelle, they had no families. They had no one to remember them at a time when being alone can feel most painful.

Today 200 people with developmental disabilities who have outlived their families or whose families have withdrawn from their lives have Angels to remember them on their birthdays, Valentine’s Day, and the December holidays. Beneficiaries live in group homes, skilled nursing facilities, and in their own apartments with live-in or shift care providers. They have diagnoses that range from Down Syndrome and other chromosomal and genetic disorders, autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, fetal alcoholism spectrum disorder, and mental retardation. Ethnic diversity is reflective of Santa Barbara County in general.

Angels Bearing Gifts operates with two volunteers that serve as part-time staff. As hard as they work they are the first to declare that without passionate and dependable volunteers Angels don’t fly. And without the financial support of a generous, compassionate community Angels don’t even have wings.

In addition to fulfilling the mission of remembering those with developmental disabilities on birthdays and holidays, Angels Bearing Gifts strives to “foster compassion within our community…via year-round volunteer and educational outreach activities.” 

Angels Bearing Gifts is also a popular choice for students seeking community service hours especially during the holiday season when they can join other volunteers shopping, wrapping, and delivering gifts or sewing stockings or decorating gift bags. Students have also helped collect stocking stuffer items like toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo and body wash, socks, flashlights, and quarters for laundry machines.

You can sponsor a beneficiary! You, too, can be an Angel. Email [email protected] to find out you can help the too-often forgotten members of our community feel included in the celebration of the holidays this year.   

A gift is an expression of caring—

a gesture of remembrance—a connection to tradition. A gift is an embrace, a smile, a sigh.  And some laughs, if you’re lucky. But above all a gift says this: you’re special.