Catholic Charities program marks its 30th anniversary.
The holidays can be a difficult time for people in need. For the past three decades, Catholic Charities has conducted a Giving Tree program to provide some measure of comfort and joy to families and adults who are struggling with poverty. Last year more than 20,000 people were helped through Giving Trees at more than 20 churches, businesses and schools across the Twin Cities, according to Gretchen Olmscheid, the organization’s warehouse and procurement specialist.
Catholic Charities does not have a final tally of Giving Trees this year, since sponsors are still coming forward. Among the local organizations sponsoring trees are Nativity Catholic Church at 1938 Stanford Ave., Mancini’s Char House at 531 West Seventh St. and the InterContinental Saint Paul Riverfront at 11 E. Kellogg Blvd.
Giving Trees are decorated with ornamental tags that note specific items needed by a Catholic Charities client, such as mittens, winter hats, stockings, underwear or personal hygiene products. Donors pick an ornament off the tree, purchase the item on the tag and drop the gift off at the tree location or at Catholic Charities Distribution Center, 341 Chester St.
This is the fifth year Nativity has hosted a Giving Tree, according to Julie Talens Paske of Macalester-Groveland, current chair of the program at the church. “It’s a project of the parish’s Council of Catholic Women,” she said.
The number of ornaments decorating Nativity’s Giving Tree has increased from year to year, according to Talens Paske. In 2018, 60 ornaments were hung from the tree. That number rose to 200 in 2019 and 2021. This year there were 150 ornaments already by the end of November, she said.
Parishioners invariably pick the Giving Tree clean of ornaments, according to Talens Paske. “Families will stop by the tree after Mass, discuss the items needed and decide which they want to give,” she said. “People bring the unwrapped items back to church with the ornamental tag attached and put them under the tree.”
Giving Trees introduce children to volunteering
Talens Paske has used the Giving Tree as a way to get her children involved in volunteering. “They assist from start to finish,” she said. “They help put up the tree, hang the ornaments, deliver the gifts to Catholic Charities and take down the tree. The Giving Tree can be a conversation starter, helping children recognize that there are people in our community who don’t have some of the basic goods that most of us are accustomed to. Buying a brand new item for someone can be that person’s Christmas gift, and doesn’t it feel good to give to others?”
Pat Mancini, who with his brother John owns Mancini’s Char House, said that they are happy to be partnering with Catholic Charities this holiday season. “We have many patrons who ask if we know any people who need help during the holidays,” he said. “This is perfect for that. So many people are in the giving mood this time of year, especially after COVID. We’ve been on West Seventh since 1948. We’re dedicated to this community, which has been so good to us, and we’ve had experience with (Catholic Charities’) Dorothy Day Center.”
‘Tis better to give than receive
Mancini’s Giving Tree is located in the lower lounge area. Throughout December, “we’ll help explain to patrons what the Giving Tree is about,” Mancini said.
“Sponsoring the Giving Tree is an important thing for my children to see—the value in giving rather than receiving,” said Trisha Mancini-Ketchmark, daughter of Pat Mancini and the Char House’s banquet and event manager. “It was also important for my father to have his children see Mancini’s doing events such as this that give back to a community that has always been there for us.”
A commitment to local charities
The InterContinental, which is also marking its first year as a partner of Catholic Charities, has three Giving Trees with a total of 600 ornamental gift tags. The trees are located on the hotel’s lower level, in the main lobby and in a second-floor room that connects to the skyway system, according to Leah Wellnitz, director of sales and marketing.
Giving Trees are part of the Intercontinental’s commitment to supporting local charities and the community as a whole, Wellnitz said. “Both the InterContinental Saint Paul and the Double Tree by Hilton Downtown are now managed by Maadaadizi Investments and locally owned and operated by the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe,” she said. “Catholic Charities and the people they serve are our neighbors. Our organization wants to be active in making the neighborhood and the city better.”
A 30th anniversary celebration
Catholic Charities will be hosting a 30th anniversary celebration of the Giving Tree program on December 17 and 18 in Macy’s Court at the Mall of America. There, individuals and families can pick an ornament off a Giving Tree, purchase the gift at the mall and drop it off at the tree.
For information on sponsoring a Giving Tree, call Elizabeth Lyden of Catholic Charities at 612-204-8582. For more information on the program or to fulfill a gift request online, visit cctwincities.org/our-organization/events/giving-tree.
— Anne Murphy