HOPE’s  ‘giving  tree’  to  be  replaced  with  new  shop

MIDDLEBURY — Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects (HOPE) this year will be making a major change in the way it solicits gifts for local children who otherwise wouldn’t receive any this holiday season.
The organization is electing to abandon its “giving tree” program in favor of establishing a second holiday gift shop at its Community Services Center off Boardman Street.
For years, HOPE’s giving tree program offered people the opportunity to take a wish-list tag from one of several “trees” posted at locations throughout the county. Each tag featured the age, gender and toy preferences of a local child whose family could not afford holiday presents. The donor would do his or her best to purchase some or all of the items on the list, and HOPE would remit the toys to the receiving family.
But HOPE Executive Director Jeanne Montross said the giving tree program has become tough to administer and has at times produced uneven results.
“It is fraught with anxiety for a lot of parents, because they don’t know what their child might receive, when (the gift) would arrive,” Montross said. “It’s an incredible amount of work for our staff to sign people up, get the information, put it onto a tag, assign a number, enter it into a big database, send it out, track when it’s coming, who it belongs to and who is the parent. That was really distracting us from giving help to people with emergency problems.”
The giving trees also, at times, resulted in a substantial disparity in the value of gifts, as some donors simply have the wherewithal to be a lot more generous than others. Montross noted some of the recipients would get an extravagant gift, when such an outlay might have been better spent on several low- to moderately priced gifts.
So HOPE officials believed it would be more efficient and less distracting for the organization to switch to a “shop” model.
And they already have a very successful model to serve as their guide.
A separate organization called “Volunteers for Community Action” already operates a successful holiday gift shop at the Community Services Center each year. Those volunteers gather donated gifts, books and clothing that are offered, for free, to qualifying low-income families during a two-week period each December.
Montross said HOPE will steer clients to the Volunteers for Community Action gift shop, while launching a second shop to help fill the void for families that had depended on the giving trees. The HOPE holiday shop — also staffed and coordinated by volunteers — will be open from Nov. 18 to Dec. 21 and will largely focus on providing holiday gifts for teens up to age 18, according to Montross.
With its emphasis on teens, organizers of the HOPE holiday shop want to assemble a range of gifts to include such things as portable compact disc players, art supplies, books, clothing and, of course, gift cards for popular stores.
Ideally, Montross would like to see every child have a book, a toy, a gift card and one or two extra knickknacks.
“We will leave it up to the community to do what the community members want to do,” Montross said.
Organizers hope the community will respond in force, as the ranks of low-income families continue to increase. Montross noted the Volunteers for Community Action shop serves around 300 children each year. The giving tree program has been reaching around 500 children annually.
Gale Hurd of Weybridge will help coordinate the new HOPE holiday shop, and she’ll recruit volunteers to help staff it. Hurd, a former Weybridge selectwoman, is an active community volunteer who does a lot of charitable work through the Weybridge Congregational Church.
That church has helped supply gifts and other supplies to kids through the Vermont Department of Children and Families’ “Partners In Service” program, which once had a strong presence in Addison County. Hurd explained the HOPE holiday shop seemed like a logical extension of that work.
“I’m looking forward to helping with the (giving trees) transition,” Hurd said. “This is going to be much less stressful for parents and a better opportunity for them to pick out gifts their children will really like.”
Anyone interested in donating to the holiday shops or helping HOPE in other ways should call 388-3608, or e-mail [email protected].
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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