In many parish halls and entryways this time of year sit decorated trees that serve as reminders to give to others this Christmas season and to keep in mind those less fortunate. Some are draped in socks, mittens, hats and scarves, looking like a festive coat rack. Others are hung with gift tags or ornaments that disappear on a Sunday morning only to be returned in the following weeks with an accompanying gift or two for someone in need.
One program that many congregations participate in is the Angel Tree prison fellowship program which provides gifts for local children who have a parent who is incarcerated. All Saints’ Church in Chelmsford is one of the parishes that supports this organization in order to help mend and strengthen the bond between child and parent by providing gifts in the incarcerated parent's name.
“Children are often the silent sufferers when a parent is in prison,” an article in All Saints’ newsletter explained. “By participating in the Angel Tree program, you are helping to share the love of Jesus Christ and to assure these children that they have not been forgotten.”
The Church of the Good Shepherd in Reading supports Dinah’s House, an organization which seeks to empower women and got its start through Trinity Church in Haverhill. The Rev. Brian Raiche, the priest-in-charge at Good Shepherd, serves on the board of directors for Dinah’s House.
“We chose Dinah’s House because of their commitment to women and children in the greater Haverhill area," Raiche said. “Their events inspire hope and connection through community.”
St. Mary's Church in Barnstable has had an ongoing relationship with a nearby elementary school, Hyannis West, for several years through the Episcopal Church-related national nonprofit All Our Children, which, according to its website, has a mission to "build the movement for education justice by supporting congregations and their members who are exploring, forming and leading community partnerships with public schools."
Two years ago, St. Mary's began providing gifts to Hyannis West Elementary School families in need, as requested by the school social worker.
Cathy Ode of St. Mary’s, who organizes this effort, noted the importance of this outreach and its significance to members of the church, explaining how one parishioner said how much it means to him to “give a desired gift directly to a local child in need, rather than simply writing a check for some charity,” Ode said.
“St. Mary's Angel Tree is actually a longstanding church tradition, with various recipients in the past. But this developing partnership with Hyannis West brings our Angel Tree to a wonderful new level, building upon a foundation that's already present between the church and our neighbors,” Ode said.
St. Peter's-on-the-Canal Church in Buzzards Bay has had a relationship for more than five years with the Village at Cataumet, which provides transitional housing for families through the Housing Assistance Corporation. The parish has a monthly gathering of items for the Village at Cataumet and has organized craft programs with the children on site as well, but wanted to do something special for the residents during the Christmas season.
"We put up a tree with colorful ornaments which served as the gift card holders. Parishioners took an ornament, purchased a gift card and returned it to St. Peter's. Then we presented Village at Cataumet with the ornaments and gift cards. This year we have provided over $1,000 in gift cards to make Christmas a little brighter for these families," said the Rev. Sue Lederhouse, the rector of St. Peter's-on-the-Canal Church.
St. Michael's Church in Holliston has a project that it focuses on each Christmas season called "Stockings of Hope." Though not exactly a tree, this project has the same purpose of giving to those in need.
Pamela PinterParsons started “Stockings of Hope” at St. Michael’s in 2010 to fill stockings with items for women at local shelters. After learning from the shelter this year that many of the women have to leave the shelter in the morning and with their items in plastic bags, the parish decided to do ”Handbags of Hope” so that each woman could have a bag in which to carry her belongings as well as the "stocking" items of hat and scarf, mittens, earrings, chocolate, socks, hand cream, lip gloss and tissues.
Emmanuel Church in Wakefield donated a total of $2,163.50 worth of gifts this year to an organization in Malden called Housing Families, Inc. which works to end family homelessness in Massachusetts. Emmanuel Church's junior warden Lynn Peterson said in an e-mail that the homelessness crisis can be invisible to people in the parish because "families are not sleeping on park benches on Wakefield Common, but instead are residing in shelters or are doubled up with family and friends. Activities like sponsoring a Giving Tree give us pause in our holiday preparations to reflect on the fact that there are children who do not have a place to call home."
These examples are just a sampling; many other congregations support a variety of local and international causes through seasonal Giving Tree efforts, including:
*St. Barnabas's Church in Falmouth has a Helping Hands Tree to provide mittens and gloves to the Falmouth Service Center as well as a second tree to provide gifts for homeless people through Belonging-to-Each-Other.
*St. Michael's Church in Milton has a tree to support My Brother's Keeper.
*St. Paul's Church in Bedford has an Advent Giving Tree to support the education of Syrian children through NuDay Syria.
*St. Peter's Church in Beverly has a Mitten Tree which supports Beverly Bootstraps.
*For 22 years, All Saints Parish in Brookline has provided Christmas presents to the adults and children at Crossroads, an East Boston shelter for homeless families.
*Trinity Church in Newton has a tree which supports the Hildebrand Family Self-Help Center.
*St. Peter's Church in Weston has an Advent Giving Tree which supports kids involved in the B-SAFE program.
*St. Anne's Church in Billerica has a tree which supports House of Hope in Lowell.
*St. Gabriel's Church in Marion has a tree which supports United Neighbors of Fall River.
*St. Paul's Church in Newburyport has a Mitten Tree which supports Pettengill House.
--Bridget K. Wood