Croop, this year’s graduate assistant for community service and Greek life, is in charge of the annual holiday gift-giving program for low-income children in the Worcester community.
On November 11, she sent a campus-wide email announcing that the Tree was open for business. “And by the time I walked the 50 feet from my office to the Student Activities Office, people were already waiting! she says”
The Spirit of Giving Tree, filled with colorful tags listing the names of children from newborns to age 16 who might otherwise have a bleak holiday season, has been a popular campus tradition since 2006.
Those who “adopt” a child receive a short profile listing a few personal details, such as a favorite color or movie, as well as three gifts the child would most like to receive. WPI passes the wrapped gifts on to Friendly House and Catholic Charities for distribution to the children.
“It’s a great feeling to see how much the community comes together,” says Croop, who is finishing her MBA at WPI this year. Individual students as well as student clubs, organizations, or Greek chapters adopt children, and departments usually take several names. Individual staff and faculty members participate and so do alumni, who continue to ask to take part even after they have left campus.
The program’s popularity underscores the importance of maintaining a close relationship between WPI and the Worcester community.
At Friendly House, the wrapped presents go to children in the after school program, who receive their gift bags at a big dinner at the neighborhood center before the holidays.
“The significance [of the Giving Tree] is huge,” says Friendly House administrative assistant Susan Daly. “A lot of our parents are not able to get a lot for their children. And WPI works so hard at getting the kids exactly what they want.”
The children fill out their profile sheets themselves, she says. “It’s coming from them.”
Though there are the occasional requests for an X-Box, “it is for me, personally, mind-boggling how practical they are,” says Croop. “A lot of the kids don’t even ask for a toy. Instead, they want warm gloves, a blanket, a jacket. It’s heartbreaking how much the community needs.”
Daly stresses how supportive WPI has been in helping Friendly House meet their families’ needs, not only at Christmastime but all year round, as well.
A thousand to 1,600 turkey baskets will go out in the next week, and the annual food drive put on by the WPI chapter of Lambda Chi Alpha (this year in conjunction with Sigma Alpha Epsilon) “makes our Thanksgiving happen,” she says. “We wouldn’t be able to serve nearly the number we can without them.”
There were 125 names on the Spirit of Giving Tree at the start of this year’s program, and only 20 remained by the end of the first week. Croop expects the number of new requests to rise again as it grows closer to Christmas.
“Traditionally, there has always been a last minute push,” she says, noting that the final number of children needing gifts will probably be closer to 200. “People [in the community] now are thinking more about signing up for what they need for Thanksgiving.”
Names can be chosen until December 5 by visiting the Spirit of the Giving Tree in the Student Activities Office on the 3rd floor of the Campus Center. On Friday, Dec. 6, participants should drop off their gifts at the Campus Center Stage between 9am and 3pm.