As in the past few years, BCAC’s ELF Giving Tree program is struggling through the holiday season to muster desperately needed winter clothing for over a thousand kids of low income applicant families in central Berkshire County this year. While it had hoped for a finish date of December 15, it will now extend into the next week until the nearly 200 remaining children are sponsored.
I applaud the many different local charitable drives this time of year, and encourage all possible support to them. Without getting too preachy, making things a little brighter, especially for kids, around what realistically can be a very difficult time for many, is, well, probably the type of thing we’re on this Earth to do. A lot of the rest is just ribbons and wrapping. In particular, though, I believe this 33rd year old, all volunteer-driven program coordinated by the Berkshire Community Action Council serves a crucial need. The Giving Tree, stationed at the Berkshire Mall these past many years, is remarkable in that it anonymously but directly connects the community with hundreds of real children under 12, children with names and needs. The process of shopping for or donating for a specific child with a first name, ages, sizes and favorite colors gives back not only the sense of helping out, but also an opportunity to reflect.
Studies have shown that children who lack or have limited proper winter attire face many disadvantages beyond the obvious, limitations which have been linked to academic and social problems as well as numerous health issues.
Volunteering at the Giving Tree table this year, I saw a powerful awareness of this in the generosity of many, and so often from those who can scarcely afford it. Last week, I met an elderly veteran who had just successfully fought to have his rightful benefits, and one of his first acts with what “little extra” he could manage was to get to the mall to make a cash donation. These heart-breaking moments are the daily norm at the Giving Tree; the kids who ask their parents to donate for a poorer child instead of giving them presents, the teenagers who donate their slight earnings, the moms and dads who find a way to take on just a little bit more somehow, or the couple who lost their own child and came to shop for ones they’ll never meet. And all these other people, people who just know what it is to be cold out there, to live at a lowest-legally-allowable quality of life that’s not actually livable.
Some say it’s the spirit of the season, but I think it’s the cold, too, the reality of New England winter. This program is triage, a front line of the hierarchy of human needs, and the basic well being of children in our community… and for a few kids out there, maybe survival itself this year.