Our Community Helper series continues with Jane Melchior, who is the Giving Tree Coordinator for St. Martin’s Catholic Church in Cecil.
Jane coordinates a toy drive for three locations, including St. Martin’s Church, First State Bank in Cecil, and at the radio station in Shawano. Melchior says she’s been coordinating the drive since her involvement about ten years ago.
“It started when our previous deacon wanted to start a food pantry for the needy people in the area,” said Melchior. “Pretty soon that developed into, well they could use a few things at Christmas for their children, and that’s how the Giving Tree began, with just those few gifts for a few children.”
Melchior explains as the food pantry has grown, so too has the Giving Tree program.
“We serve a much larger area now with our food pantry. All of our clients come from the food pantry registration. They are all screened for need, and based on that, they enroll their children ages 14 and under.”
Off of that enrollment, parents provide the Giving Tree with information, such as age, gender, a wish list and their clothing size to help make their Christmas a little brighter.
“It’s all about the joy,” Mechior beamed. “I think it also makes the parents that are receiving the gifts for their children hopeful that perhaps the next year will be a little bit better for them. It’s the best day of the year.”
For Melchior, this is a time of year she looks forward to most. She says she’s seen a number of ways first-hand how the Giving Tree program has made an impact in the lives of local families. However, one instance over the years has stood out to her that made her work particularly rewarding.
“I did have one woman come up to me a couple years ago, saying that she was taking several tags off of the tree because she was one of the tags in her younger years, and that was very heartwarming to here,” Melchior recalled. “She has turned her life around and done better than perhaps her parents had did at the time, and she’s helping in return, which is great to hear.”
Enrollment for the Giving Tree began already in September and October, but officially gears up in December. Often the lists that are provided from the families aren’t greedy and are not usually asking for anything too extravagant.
“They are things in many cases what we would call necessities,” Melchior explained. “It often comes down to a balance in their economic situation of food on the table, or gifts for children, and food on the table is a real necessity. I have never come across where somebody has just grabbed [their gift] and gone, or [felt] entitled. They’re very gracious and very thankful.”
Melchior says there are many reasons she looks forward to coordinating the Giving Tree every year, but she’s especially encouraged by its ability to bring the community together.
“I think because there are so many opportunities to help out and give back, that more and more people have become involved. That’s really also what it’s about. It’s really community based. We started as our little church based and it grew way beyond that. Reaching out into the community has been a wonderful thing and word spreads.”
The holiday season usually features a number of different toy drives and other charitable acts, however, the Giving Tree offers something different.
“We’re different in that respect because people are actually physically shopping for a specific child, and they have that wishlist in hand. It’s up to them how much they want to spend to help make wishes come true. That’s what we’re kind of all about at this time of year, making those wishes come true, and then the joy on our part of it definitely comes along with it.”
Children enrolled in the Giving Tree program will be receiving their gifts on Monday.
Jane Melchior, this week’s Community Helper.