For 10 years now, Anganette Byrd has held tight to the same Black Friday tradition: She wakes, has breakfast, and joins the thousands of morning deal-hunters flooding into SouthPark mall.
But instead of shopping, Byrd heads straight to the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree near the mall’s food court to volunteer for the very first shift of the season, helping passers-by sign up to “adopt” Christmas lists of children in need.
With a warm smile, Byrd explains the program and the process to those who approach her table, although for many, visiting the Angel Tree on Black Friday is a tradition as well.
“You have the couples who come by, and they’re so excited,” says Byrd, 53. “And then you have the families who make it a tradition and they’ll bring the children and let them go to the tree and pick out an angel. I just love it. People are so generous.”
Byrd has volunteered at angel trees around Charlotte for more than two decades, starting out at the former Eastland Mall. She took a few years off after son Michael, now 21, was born, but once he turned 5 she started bringing him along with her to volunteer.
“He never put up a fuss or fight,” she says.
This year, Michael Byrd, a football player at Texas Christian University, couldn’t make it to Charlotte for Thanksgiving — and his volunteer shift with mom — because of a Saturday game.
Working Angel Tree shifts was just one of the many ways Anganette and Michael Byrd have given back over the years. They’ve volunteered at Second Harvest Food Bank, and twice a month Anganette, who administrates education programs and contests for the Mecklenburg Soil and Water Conservation District, volunteers for the Billy Graham TV Telephone Ministry by taking prayer request phone calls.
Doing volunteer work wasn’t part of Byrd’s routine growing up, but she says her single mom instilled in her the value of service to others in how she viewed her housekeeping jobs in hospitals and hotels.
“I watched my mother in a service role, and even though it was cleaning, it made me want to reach out to people,” Byrd said.
Helping others at Christmas is especially poignant for Byrd, she says, because she remembers how her mom struggled — but never complained — to pay for Christmas for Byrd and her two younger siblings.
“I saw the struggle, which I believe deep down inside of me made me want to give back,” Byrd said. “Because at Christmastime, my grandparents and my aunts would help my mother with Christmas.”
On Black Friday at SouthPark, Byrd greeted shoppers with a smile alongside fellow volunteer Kathy Marcello and the two offered friendly explanations of the program’s requirements.
Mom and daughters Jennifer, Rachel and Anna Iannotti stopped by the Angel Tree table within the first hour of Byrd’s shift. Visiting the Angel Tree on Black Friday and adopting two children’s lists is a tradition for them, too.
The Iannottis always choose a boy and a girl, and of the two, they try to select one older child. This year, they’ll shop for a 6-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl.
Byrd says she’s heard lots of stories over the years, but one sticks out:
“I had one lady who said, ‘I give back because my children were part of the angel tree, so now I come out and I pick out a couple of angels so I can give back,” Byrd says. “She’s paying it forward.”