The little girl smiled.
And it was the best Christmas present her daughter could have given her mother. After a tough year, the mother was happy just to see her daughter smile to open a few gifts — gifts that were made possible thanks to the generosity of the Stanton community and the Tree of Caring.
“What she told me was, ‘My little girl was able to go back to school with a smile on her face. She had new clothes and the toy she wanted most of all,’ ” said Pastor Linda Mohr of the New England Congregational Church. “It’s hard for kids to see others get all of these wonderful gifts, and if we weren’t able to help, some of these families wouldn’t have that experience.”
The program, which was started in 1989, rotates between six churches and gathers gifts and food for families in Stanton who have applied for assistance during the holidays. The Tree of Caring is filled with about 30 ornaments, each with a couple of items for a child. It also includes their age and size to help if the gift requested is a toy or clothing item.
Located at Stanton Hardware this year, owner Pat Larson said she’s proud to play a small part in helping a family in need.
“The community of Stanton is wonderful, and I’m happy to help by having the tree here,” Larson said. “It arrived on Friday and was full of ornaments. There was a rush of people to get them. Some said they always take an ornament. Others missed out last year and want to help.”
As of press time, less than a dozen ornaments remained on the Tree of Caring. Larson said she hopes all will be spoken for to ensure everyone requesting assistance has a merry Christmas.
Karen Petersen, who is helping spearhead the program this year, said the Tree of Caring is much more than Christmas gifts.
Those who apply will also receive a box of food and toiletry items.
“The school is really a lot of help with collecting food for families,” Petersen said.
The Stanton FBLA organized the school’s food drive, which collects items at the pre-school, elementary and high school.
Adviser Karla Renn said there is a competition among advisory groups to bring the most items, with a winning group from grades 5-6, 7-8 and 9-12. This year winners will be treated to Casey’s breakfast pizza during their advisory.
The Stanton National Honor Society helps sort and pack boxes for distribution in the community.
“They do such a great job. The kids have been doing this for so long they know exactly what to do,” Petersen said. “We’re thankful to have the support of the school and community.”
Mohr said food boxes are located throughout the community as well, and the banks donate ham to be included for families. The Tree of Caring also has a fund set up at First Nebraska Bank. The fund helps families all year long.
“Sometimes families can’t pay their utilities and ask for help,” she said. “We have a fund for that, so once we determine the need, we can assist. If the fund gets low — and it sometimes does — we ask our parishioners for help. They always step up.”
Mohr said one of the most incredible aspects of the program is how the entire community and churches work together for one another.
“Though our theology isn’t the same, the churches come together for this,” she said. “It takes a community to care for a community. We may be miles apart on Sunday morning, but we come together to help with the Tree of Caring.”