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The Giving Tree Courtesy of St. Ann Catholic Church

The Giving Tree Courtesy of St. Ann Catholic Church

While not a Christmas story, “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein is a wonderful children’s book with a message that resonates with everyone. It is a touching reminder of the importance of family and giving at this time of year.

The story is about a tree’s sacrifice for the love of a boy. At first, they happily play together every day, but eventually, the boy grows up and pursues the trappings of adulthood: money, a house, a family, travel. So the tree gives the boy her apples to sell, her branches to build a house, and her trunk to make a boat. By the end, the tree is a stump, but the boy — now a tired old man — needs nothing more than a quiet place to rest, so he sits on the tree stump, and the tree is happy.

Why is this book relevant to us at this time of year? Quite simply, it is the title and what it symbolizes. Almost every church, nonprofit, nursing home or other special location has a giving tree adorned with tags. The tags suggest gift items, for the person who will receive the gift from an anonymous donor. You take a tag, purchase a gift and return it with the tag to the giving tree. Some parents have their children take a tag or two to help teach the child the meaning of giving: it is better to give than receive.

For many years, there has been a giving tree at St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Loyalsock. It is a little different this year with gift tags designating locations where the gifts will be delivered before Christmas.

The social concerns committee working with the parish’s Mary Carlucci Food Pantry have as their outreach focus area elder care facilities and financial assistance programs. Most of the Giving Tree tags are for items needed for daily living. Arista Care, Hillside Assisted Living, Family Promise Day Center, Shepherd of the Streets, Head Start, and Expectations will receive the gifts and in turn, give them to their residents or clients. Some tags request items as simple as “ChapStick,” or gifts for someone’s home, their health or more personal items like a fleece vest or sweatshirt.

Just as that bright, shining star guided the wise men to the manger, so they could deliver their gifts to the newborn king, giving trees guide us to bring gifts to those in need; for as Jesus says, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” And while they might not be as valuable as the gold, frankincense or myrrh the wise men gave to Jesus, giving tree gifts give those who receive them hope and peace in knowing someone who doesn’t know them cares about their well-being.

Another of St. Ann’s ministries, the parish’s prison ministry committee is working with the St. Ann’s Confirmation Class for a special group of gift recipients: the children of incarcerated adults.

The Confirmation class represents middle school students who will accept the sacrament of Confirmation next spring. They are securing gifts that will meet some of the basic needs of the children of incarcerated parents: coats, hats, gloves, sweaters, and jeans. These children need more than basic necessities; they need hope, love, the consistency of a family. These Christmas gifts are a good place to start for children who are living in uneasy circumstances. They have a different type of family than what Jesus had, lying in a manger with Mary, his mother, and Joseph, her husband.

The giving trees you see in churches and other locations this season represent a tradition that serves as a reminder that families take care of each other. No matter how imperfect a family may be, no matter how far a family member may have strayed, no matter how torn a family may be by struggles internal or external, everyone has a place at the table with their family.

Next time you see a giving tree, take a tag, buy a gift and keep the tradition of a giving tree alive. Just like the book, the tree will be happy and you will, too.

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