To the editor of THE EAGLE:
As in the past few years, The Berkshire Community Action Council’s ELF Giving Tree program is struggling through the holiday season to muster desperately needed winter clothing for nearly a thousand kids of low income applicant families in central Berkshire County. While originally hoping for a finish date of Dec. 15, it will now extend into the next week until some 200 remaining children are sponsored.
This 33-year-old, all volunteer-driven program serves a crucial need. The Giving Tree, stationed at the Berkshire Mall these past many years, anonymously but directly connects the community with the needs of hundreds of real children under 12.
Studies have shown that children who lack or have limited proper winter attire face many disadvantages beyond the obvious, limitations which have been linked to academic and social problems as well as numerous health issues. Volunteering at the Tree this year, I’ve seen awareness of this in the generosity of many, so often from those who can scarcely afford it.
I met an elderly veteran who had successfully fought the bureaucracy to get his rightful benefits, and one of his first acts with what little extra he could manage was to get to the mall to make a cash donation. These heart-breaking moments are the daily norm at the Giving Tree; the kids who ask their parents to buy clothes for a poorer child instead of a toy for them, the teenagers who donate their slight earnings, the moms and dads who somehow find a way to take on just a little bit more. People who know what it is to be cold, to have lived at a lowest legally allowable quality of life that’s not actually livable. This program is triage, a front line of the hierarchy of human need and basic well-being of so many kids in our community. It’s the reality of New England winter, and for a few kids out there, maybe survival itself this year.
Last year the drive extended until Dec. 22, ending in a massive 11th hour turnout and a mad scramble to get gifts to families. Nonetheless, it will continue as long as it has to, and the volunteers will stay on to staff it until every child is sponsored. Because it has to happen. This community will not let this effort fail, and somehow will rally to pull off the Giving Tree miracle yet again this year.
The writer is a Giving Tree volunteer.