December 23, 2009

Brightening the holiday through generosity

By Tina Foreman
Farmer Staff Writer

There is a lot more to Christmas than receiving gifts, and residents of McKenzie County have been generously showing that all month through their donations to the McKenzie County Social Services Giving Tree.
Christmas is meant to be a wonderful time of year. But for the less fortunate or those down on their luck financially, it can be a difficult and very stressful time of year, especially when children are involved.
Each December, the Giving Tree is set up and decorated with gift tags in hopes of helping families who are struggling to make Christmas a happy time. The gift tags include the recipient’s age, clothing size and a few items they would like to get this Christmas. The idea is that each tag will be taken by a generous Christmas helper who will purchase gifts to be distributed by Social Services.
“McKenzie County is very generous,” says Stacy Arnegard, McKenzie County Social Services social worker. “It seems like every time I turn around, someone has brought in another money donation. When we finished the program this year, we had 49 children receiving gifts and 10 families receiving food baskets, and we had no problem filling the need.”
In addition to doing something nice for someone, the Giving Tree can also be a great learning experience for area youngsters as two fifth grade classes recently learned.
“About 10 years ago I gave my students the option to exchange gifts or donate to the Giving Tree,” says Shelley Anderson, Watford City Elementary School fifth grade teacher. “My students have been donating ever since. Each of the students votes for their choice and I’ve never had a year where it’s even been a close vote. It gives the students a chance to appreciate what they have.”
Both classes decided to donate instead of exchanging gifts, so the teachers chose tags from the Giving Tree and showed them to the students so they knew what their donation would be going for.
“We decided to do it because it seems that most of our kids are very lucky and have Christmas at their houses,” says Janet Johnston, also a fifth grade teacher. “We have a five dollar limit on gifts for classmates which turns out to be something that the kids play with once or twice and discard.  The students get such a good feeling when they realize that they are making someone else feel good.”
Knowing that their Christmas would be bright, the students were eager to donate.
“I think it was an easy decision for most of us, because we know we’re going to have a good Christmas at our houses,” says Jayden Leiseth, Watford City Elementary School fifth grader. “I’m glad we decided to donate, because donating made me feel good and I thought it was pretty cool to give something to someone who might not have any presents.”
After the donations were brought in, the teachers went shopping, choosing pajamas, shirts and a few toys for the recipients with their students being almost as eager to see the gifts as they will be Christmas morning.
“We were all excited to see what our teacher bought,” says Danelle Ragains, Watford City Elementary School fifth grader. “I think the child that we gave to is really going to like the gifts. I know I would if I was him.”
Thanks to the donations from the fifth graders and everyone else in McKenzie County, the Social Services Giving Tree was not only able to make this a bright holiday for many families, it will also be able to help out with other needs throughout the year.
“We had leftover donations last year which ended up being used to buy winter coats for a family who couldn’t afford them, and it looks like we will be in the same situation this coming year,” says Amy Fast, McKenzie County Social Services director. “This is a wonderful community with a very giving heart.”
If you stopped by the Social Services office last week, you may have had a hard time finding a social worker through the piles of donated gifts and wrapping paper, but they were all there working diligently to get everything ready for Monday’s delivery.
“It takes a lot of work to get everything ready,” adds Arnegard. “But the whole office gets into it, and before long, everything is ready to go.”
If you didn’t have the opportunity to donate to this year’s Giving Tree, Fast suggests, volunteering at the nursing home or stopping by an elderly neighbor’s to visit or offer a helping hand.