Giving trees flourish around diocese - Catholic Courier
Faith-formation students Dylan Wilder (from left), Celia Mattie, Aiden Tardif and Ryan Gilbert decorate a giving tree at Auburn's Holy Family Church Nov. 24. (Courier photo by Devon Roblee) Faith-formation students Dylan Wilder (from left), Celia Mattie, Aiden Tardif and Ryan Gilbert decorate a giving tree at Auburn's Holy Family Church Nov. 24. (Courier photo by Devon Roblee)

Giving trees flourish around diocese

In numerous churches across the Rochester Diocese, trees are being lined with gifts for folks whom donors have never met and likely never will meet.

Yet supporters of giving trees, or angel trees, know their participation is as vital — if not more so — as providing Christmas gifts for family and friends.

“It makes them feel like Santa Claus. The people are so happy to do it,” said Nancy Smith, faith-formation coordinator at Auburn’s Holy Family Church, who oversees the parish’s longstanding Angel Giving Tree project.

A giving-tree initiative typically involves a church erecting a Christmas tree and adding numerous tags with gift requests — items for impoverished people who may not be able to afford even the simplest of Christmas presents. Parishioners then return the gifts to the tree or another designated drop-off area. This process tends to begin around Thanksgiving and lasts only a few weeks, so that recipients can have their gifts in time for Christmas.

Many parishes’ giving trees emphasize children; others include people who are sick, homebound or in nursing homes; and others cover folks of all ages. Parishes are often linked to their beneficiaries through local charitable organizations. For instance, Holy Family’s giving tree supports the Cayuga County Christmas Elf project, an effort of the Cayuga-Seneca Community Action Agency to provide young people ages 6 months to 18 years with one specifically requested gift each. Smith noted that skateboards, makeup kits, perfume, jewelry, video games, iTunes cards and action figures are among the more popular requests thus far in 2013. She added that some Holy Family donors take two or three tags off the giving tree, and others provide additional gifts beyond what was requested — particularly when all the tags have already been taken.

“Some people, they sacrifice. You see these gifts that come in and these are not cheap toys. When I look at these gifts I know they spent 20 30, 40 dollars on them,” Smith said.

Generosity is highly evident as well in Tioga County, where giving trees are up at all four churches in Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes — St. John the Evangelist, Newark Valley; St. Margaret Mary, Apalachin; St. James, Waverly; and St. Patrick, Owego. St. John the Evangelist, for one, offers a variety of Christmas outreach efforts to benefit Tioga County Rural Ministry: a giving tree for individual gifts; a mitten tree that provides cold-weather essentials; an Adopt-A-Family program through which gifts and food are secured for entire families; donations of personal-care products by the religious-education program; and monetary contributions from parishioners.

Sherry Warchocki, who coordinates St. John’s giving efforts along with Sue Bierl and Lisa Salamida, said ongoing parish enthusiasm has allowed Christmas giving to remain strong for many years.

“Almost the whole church does something to make the program happen,” she said, adding that the effort provides “a great lesson in Christian giving for our own children” as well as a highly personalized form of giving: “By the time you are done purchasing gifts, clothing and food for a family, you feel like you really know them and care about them.”

Ample levels of caring also can be found at Pittsford’s St. Louis Church, which has erected three angel trees to benefit Saint’s Place, a ministry for refugees based at St. Louis that’s operated in conjunction with Perinton’s St. John of Rochester Parish and Catholic Family Center’s Refugee Resettlement Program.

According to Michele Quinn, assistant director of Saint’s Place, 1,200-plus gifts were donated last year to benefit refugees from such countries as Bhutan, Burma, Cuba, Iraq, Sudan, Chad and Somalia. Although there’s the occasional toy or other fun gift — “the kids absolutely love soccer balls,” Quinn said — most donated items cover basic needs and include small appliances, winter outerwear and cleaning supplies.

“I can’t tell you how supportive this parish is,” said Quinn, who coordinates the angel trees with help from the Young family of St. Louis Parish. “People here are more than generous. Sometimes the gift is on the back door (of Saint’s Place) the next day.”

Quinn noted that unlike many other giving trees, Saint’s Place extends the giving period well into winter so that items can be distributed as needed and not used up all at Christmas.

“We like to say we have Christmas miracles all year long,” Quinn remarked.

 

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