By Molly McCarthy, Contributing writer
Shrewsbury – Each holiday season a giving tree is placed in the lobby of Shrewsbury's Sherwood Middle School. The purpose of the tree is to help the school's families in need during the holiday season.
Patricia McCaffrey, MS, RN, lead nurse, and Kelly O”Connell, adjustment counselor, are the impetus behind the holiday tree each year.
Sherwood Middle School's faculty and staff identify families that might be in need of help during the holiday season. Principal Jane Lizotte sends an email directed to the families to see if anyone responds. The emails and the responses received are kept confidential from everyone except Lizotte, McCaffrey and O”Connell.
“We know people who we think need help, but we don's know everybody, and we do not want anybody to fall through the cracks,” McCaffrey explained.
McCaffrey also coordinates with St. Anne's Church of Shrewsbury to help identify families in greatest need. After the team finds what item is required, O”Connell and McCaffrey make up tags that list the desired gifts and hang the tags on the giving tree.
“Part of what we do to make it a community effort – to help out our own community – is we create anonymous tags – the person's identity is not known. And then students, faculty and community members who come in and out of the school are able to pick a tag off their tree and help out a member of their own community, even though they don's know who it is,” O”Connell said.
Clothing is the most requested item. Tags for coats, boots, hats, mittens, books, basketballs, and arts and crafts kits can also be found on the tree. Some of the tags request gift cards to a grocery store or a clothing store.
“We have a wonderful program with the masons [the Matthew John Whittall Masonic Lodge] and they provide coats for our kids. The other days over $1,000 dollars worth of brand-new coats were brought in, and they do that for every school in Shrewsbury. If anybody needs a coat, we call and it's brought in practically the next day.? It is fabulous,” McCaffrey said.
“Some people do not want to go to St. Anne's or a social service agency, and this is an easy and captive place to have an audience that wants to help and is able to pretty quickly I think it is really hard to raise your hand and say, “I need help,” so for them, knowing that maybe one or two people are aware of their situation, yet have a whole community that is willing to help them is pretty powerful,” O”Connell said.
O”Connell and McCaffrey said the giving tree program at Sherwood has been around as long as they can remember.
“It has evolved in different ways from year to year based on need and things, but our numbers unfortunately, have also grown from year to year,” McCaffrey said.
Each year, 16 to 20 families within the Sherwood Middle School community are helped through the giving tree. The presents are due unwrapped by Monday, Dec. 17.
Sherwood Middle School holds different drives and collections throughout the year to help community members. O”Connell talked about another possible project to come.
“In the summertime we all have to remember that school is out but we still have families in need. We are going to try to brainstorm as how to fill that void over the summer as well,” O”Connell said.
O”Connell and McCaffrey described the family's responses to the help. They talked of thank-you notes, tears and hugs.
“The gratitude is overwhelming – it just makes you feel really good. It's great to give,” McCaffrey said.