Santa exists … as long as you still believe.
Two hundred children in dozens of families are still believing in the magic of Christmas this year thanks to Santa’s helpers who were busy working Monday to set up a Christmas store at First Baptist’s Ministry Activity Center (MAC) ahead of the annual “Sycamore Christmas Tree” ministry to area families Tuesday.
Moms, dads and grandparents arrived every 30 minutes at the MAC building Tuesday to shop for their children. Each family was greeted at the door by a volunteer shopper who helped them find items from their children’s wish lists. Other volunteers wrapped the gifts in brightly colored paper and shiny ribbons, all ready to be placed underneath the Christmas tree at home.
“A shopper goes through, helps them know where everything is, knows the price of everything,” says Donna Dixon, Sycamore Tree director. “They leave with all the presents wrapped and ready for Christmas. It’s a complete package.”
The Sycamore Tree, a non-profit benevolence ministry, works closely with Pierce County School System and the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) to identify families who need a little extra help for Christmas. School counselors and DFCS workers aim to match children up with the services they need without overlooking some families or over supporting others.
That coordinated effort is what makes this annual charity Christmas store such a success, Dixon says.
“That’s a big piece of this … that way everybody is getting on somebody’s list,” she says. “You do the best you can to cast a broad net.”
At least $50 worth of presents is allocated for each child — a total of $10,000 worth of goodies this year. Most children are elementary school age or younger, but Sycamore Tree works hard to make sure teenagers aren’t overlooked either.
“God has blessed us so much. It’s beyond anything we’ve done,” Dixon says in amazement.
She credits an incredible outpouring of support from the community as the reason why The Sycamore Tree is able to spread love to hundreds of children each year. Many send in cash donations for the project while others donate new Christmas toys or volunteer for the event. Progress Rail and Addictive Aquatics organized toy drives this year which were a big help, Dixon adds.
“It’s not me, it’s not The Sycamore Tree, it’s all of us loving on each other,” Dixon says.
Once families are referred to the Christmas store, Dixon and her team do their best to match at least one item from each child’s wish list with something at the store. Bicycles are always a popular item.
“Getting a bicycle on Christmas Day is something special,” Dixon says.
Shopping, assembling toys, setting up the store and serving the families takes countless hours each Christmas season, but Dixon and the team of Sycamore Tree volunteers do it all with a bright smile — even if their feet are hurting and their knuckles busted from putting bicycles together.
“It’s such a joy to do it,” Dixon says. “To see the parents’ smiles … seeing that satisfaction, that love for their children. The volunteers get as much out of it, or more, than the recipients do.”
Particularly for volunteers who didn’t grow up in a large family, the Christmas project is one big party.
“It’s like being part of a very big family, that’s the joy of this. I think that’s the spirit of Christmas — sharing with each other, your neighbors, friends and family,” Dixon adds.
The Sycamore Tree volunteers may put their feet up today and relax for a moment — but not for long. Families struggling to make ends meet in Pierce County don’t just need a helping hand during the holidays. Those children will soon outgrow jackets and boots. Seasons will change and students will need tennis shoes, backpacks and new clothes for the start of a new school year.
“The Sycamore Tree is here all year long to listen, help out,” Dixon reminds folks.
She hopes those who have a big heart during the holidays will be inspired to work as Santa’s helpers all year long. The Sycamore Tree is always looking for volunteers.
For more information about Sycamore Tree’s services or to volunteer, call 912-807-4673.