During the Great Depression of the 1930s, local newspapers began aiding families asking for help at Christmas. The Christmas program formalized in 1952, when reporters asked Leadership United (formerly the United Way) to accept responsibility for these requests. In 1957, UCS absorbed two other holiday gift programs to form United Christmas Service (UCS).

Ron and Sally Pearson, pictured here with their grandson, have adopted families through United Christmas Service for over 30 years.
© Frank Espich / IndyStar View Source

Throughout the holiday season each year, UCS staffed a crew composed of members, 200 volunteers, local media, and a policy committee of 20 community members to help raise and distribute funds. Until 2018, schools, hospitals, community centers, and Leadership United agencies referred households to UCS.

In 2018, the UCS (via Leadership United) merged with the Salvation Army Angel Tree program. Donors visit an Angel Tree location in the community and select a paper angel that represents a real “Angel,” a child in need. Angel Tree assistance is available to Indianapolis area families with children ages 0-12 whose income falls below the U.S. Poverty Guidelines. Much of the support for Angel Tree comes from local businesses and organizations that adopt multiple angels. In 2019, Angel Tree supported 2,800 families including 7,000 children. More than 1,000 volunteers donated their time to distribute the gifts to families.

Revised April 2021
 

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