TOWNSEND -- This holiday season, Townsend Ecumenical Outreach is helping to ease the burden of local families who might not otherwise be able to provide Christmas presents for their children.
The TEO has erected their annual "Trees of Giving"; one stands in Bailey's Bar and Grille, one in the Townsend Public Library, and one in the possession of the Townsend Couple's Club. The branches of each evergreen are adorned with envelopes filled with wish lists of children from families served by the TEO. Residents can pick up a tag and return the gifts within two weeks; the parents then come to pick up the presents.
Originally, all the tags were distributed amongst the local churches. Four years ago, Bailey's owner Pam Mariano decided to take part in the program after TEO volunteer Monica Kleeman approached her about participating. The next year, after moving into their new building, the library also asked for tags.
"I like to have it as more of a community event," said Kleeman.
"She knows I'm all about fundraising -- it's actually my passion. When I wrote down the pros and cons of opening a restaurant, fundraising was the big one," said Mariano. "(Kleeman) instantly thought of me, and we were all over it."
Four years later, she said, the restaurant's participation in the program has become a huge success.
"Before we even put (the tags) out, people are usually asking for them," said Mariano.
Less than a day after hanging the tags on the tree
"Last year, they were taken so quickly that we ended up (putting out) more," said Mariano. "People just love it."
Bailey's plays a huge role in doling out the envelopes to the community, said Kleeman.
"I could give (Mariano) 500 envelopes, and she'd somehow get them all distributed," said Kleeman.
That likely won't end up being necessary; each holiday season, the TEO serves approximately 100 Townsend children. Applications are still coming in, said Kleeman. Still, there are more out there that could benefit from the program that simply haven't applied.
"There are a lot of kids that could be serviced but are not," said Kleeman. "These are people who are just taking advantage of the TEO."
The TEO tries to ensure that each child receives six presents, balancing wants and necessities. Generally, said Kleeman, gifts should be under $25 each in order to remain equitable.
"We had to put a price limit because people have great hearts. You have some people dropping a couple hundred dollars, but you have to remember that (the child) probably has a brother or sister," said Kleeman. "We don't want someone to have 19 gifts and the other sibling to get six gifts."
The response to the program has been overwhelmingly positive, both from recipients and from donators, said Kleeman.
"It's a huge help to these families," said Kleeman. "It's a really amazing program. It touches so many people in Townsend."
In fact, there hasn't been a year since Kleeman took over the program seven years ago that any wishes had gone unfulfilled. At one point, she said, St. John's Parish began asking donators to limit how many envelopes they were taking in order to allow others to participate.
"At one time, people were taking three or four," said Kleeman.
Occasionally, recipients submit late applications. In those cases, said Kleeman, she has friends whom she calls who are always more than willing to help out.
"People in Townsend are so generous and kind," said Kleeman. "Some people are just looking for things to do for other people, and sometimes they just need the phone call."
Library director Stacy Schuttler said by Nov. 30, the tree in the library was already down to only four envelopes.
"I think people are excited during the holiday season and they want to help others who are maybe having a rough year. This is one way they can give to people and help children and families have a nice Christmas," said Schuttler. "They know they're helping someone who lives here."