Trees have been discussed frequently in this space. Today I'd like to talk about a tree that does not need to be planted or pruned. It does, though, need to be nurtured -- by the whole community.
The Angel Tree has been a holiday tradition in Los Banos for more than a quarter-century. This year it was set up after Thanksgiving in the lobby of Coldwell Banker, Kaljian and Associates at 645 Pacheco Blvd. and will stay up until Dec. 17.
As the Enterprise reported last month, the Angel Tree is decorated with paper angels, each with a reference to a child from a family in need and a Christmas wish. It's one of many activities organized by volunteers to help people in need.
In the case of the Angel Tree the children who benefit come from families identified by staff within the Los Banos Unified School District.
I talked with Martie Lloyd, who worked with Rhonda Lowe in 1984 to start the Angel Tree and has continued to be a part of the Angel team ever since. She said school staff -- teachers, nurses and secretaries -- see first-hand the needs of kids and their families.
The children selected for Angel Tree gifts typically are from families of very limited income, so limited that there is little available for Christmas presents.
Last year more than 400 paper angels were hung on the Angel Tree. Each angel describes a boy or girl, includes their age and a Christmas wish. There is also an ID number, so volunteers can connect the angel's gift to the child.
Angel children are asked to request a gift under $25.
"We don't want kids to ask for anything extravagant," said Martie, "but for something within reason that they need."
Anyone can select an angel, buy the gift, then return it to the Coldwell Banker office (wrapped or not) with the paper angel attached. Angel Tree volunteers will do the rest.
Givers and receivers remain unknown to each other, examples of random and anonymous acts of Christmas kindness.
For the past several years, the Los Banos Rotary Club has helped by donating cash. Then several Rotarians -- including Toni Moreno (who has actively supported this project for years) -- go to local stores to buy gifts for kids who have asked for clothes.
Rotarians devote one regular meeting each year in early December to wrap the gifts. It seems a little chaotic, but in a methodical madness, about 200 boxes of clothes are wrapped in an hour by about 30 people.
Anyone observing the wrapping would chuckle at the sight of adults acting like kids, sharing paper, scissors and tape as they work together to wrap presents. Even with all the help the Rotary provides, there are still many paper angels on the tree, said Martie, because the need this year is great.
There are still opportunities to help.
"I have been privileged to know many of the families who have been chosen to receive gifts," said Martie. "They tell me how much it means to them, and how they appreciate the help.
"This year we have so many children of local families not only in financial need, but in shock from recent traumas and tragedies including accidents, foreclosures, fires and deaths."
Martie expressed her appreciation for Coldwell Banker's staff, such as Theresa Bartholomew and Jennifer Lieb, who help anyone who comes into the office looking for the Angel Tree.
Los Banos' first Angel Tree was set up in the Sears store on I and Seventh Streets, which Martie and her husband, Royal, managed. Since then it has been set up in the Los Banos Enterprise, Sorensen's True Value and Rhonda Lowe's Celebrations store. For the past five years, it's been at Coldwell Banker Kaljian's.
The Angel Tree represents just one opportunity to get into the spirit of Christmas. At a time when TV and internet commercials bombard us with ads for things we really don't need, we have a chance to buy things for kids and families with real needs.
So whether it's the Angel Tree, Kops for Kids, Toys for Tots, the Salvation Army, or your local church, support the volunteers trying to make Christmas more enjoyable those who need a little extra help.
John Spevak, a 2011 California Newspaper Publishers Association's columnist award recipient, encourages comments via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.