Typically, trees don't tend to bear fruit over the winter months — but Hesston's Giving Tree is a hardwood of a different color.
A joint effort between the Hesston Police Department, Hesston Ministerial Alliance and other community partners, the Giving Tree initiative, now in its second year, aims to provide gifts for children whose families could use some extra help around the holidays.
"Last year, we just had some folks who saw the need and wanted to help coordinate that," said Hesston Police Chief Doug Schroeder.
Officers and their wives helped organize Giving Tree donations in the first year, while the Hesston Police Department has partnered with the Hesston Ministerial Alliance in support of the program in 2019, getting several other community partners involved as well.
Hesston's public library hosts the physical Giving Tree — where members of the public can come in to adopt children and fill their specific gift requests — while Hesston USD 460 helps market the program to get applicants who meet specific financial criteria in need of assistance.
Schroeder noted the Hesston Police Department then acts as the middle man, playing the role of Santa and helping distribute what was collected for eligible kids within the Hesston school district.
"The police department kind of does the behind-the-scenes matching so that everybody stays anonymous, both the people fulfilling the angels and those requesting to put their child on the tree," Schroeder said. "I saw us having a role in that we can make those deliveries. We see families struggling around the holidays, so it's just kind of refreshing to be able to be that helping hand — to be able to be in that link of people helping people and to come get that reassurance that things are going to be alright."
Initially, Schroeder noted, his biggest concern was that there would be so much need that the community would not be able to provide gifts for all the children in the Giving Tree program and that Hesston police would be scrambling to fill wish lists close to Christmas.
Both last year and this year, that has not been a problem. A total of 47 children were signed up in 2018, with that number growing to 58 in 2019, and wish lists have been fulfilled with time to spare. A number of folks even volunteered to help secure last-minute gifts if needed.
"Silly me — I should've expected that out of Hesston, but that was fun to see," Schroeder said.
Such gifts as toys are the main focus of the Hesston Police Department's Giving Tree program, as Schroeder noted the Holiday Helpers food drive the department is part of helps provide Christmas meals and there are a number of other agencies to help families in need with other resources.
With the reactions Schroeder has seen personally, he sees a clear value in continuing the Giving Tree program and urges community members to think about ways they can help out over the holidays.
"You could see in a number of folks that we delivered to just kind of a weight coming off their shoulders, knowing that they're going to see some smiles on Christmas morning that maybe they weren't going to be able to fulfill themselves," Schroeder said. "If any citizen sees a need, I just encourage you to act on it to try and take care of each other."