By Ben Rodgers
HOWARD – Less fortunate families in Howard-Suamico have the option of Christmas being a little easier this year thanks to The Giving Tree.
The Giving Tree Holiday Store expects to serve at least 250 families in Howard-Suamico, while at the same time letting them still be proud about buying gifts.
“Nobody wants a free handout, nobody wants that feeling that they can’t produce for their families,” said Kourtney Feldhausen, Giving Tree coordinator. “We keep the prices low enough that they can choose to spend what they want.”
Families at the Holiday Store have 30 minutes to spend $5 per child on new items and an extra $5 for necessities.
All of the items at the store are new and have been donated by local churches, businesses or individuals, and are priced like a rummage sale.
“We try to keep things kid-focused because that is what our program is about, helping kids,” Feldhausen said. “But there are things that are not kid-specific.”
An example would be a LEGO set for a child priced at a couple of dollars, while also having pillows, blankets or clothes for sale as well.
The program also relies on donations of $10 gift cards that are sold for $1, so teenagers go eat a meal at McDonalds or grab coffee at Starbucks with their friends.
While stopping at McDonalds or Starbucks may not seem like something special for most people, for those with tight finances, it can be considered a luxury.
“For these families it’s a constant talk of ‘We need that money for food, because food is going to run out,’ or ‘We need that money for the energy bill,’” Feldhausen said.
The program selects families based on children who receive free or reduced lunch at school, which is considered a poverty indicator by school districts.
Feldhausen said about 20 percent of the students in the Howard-Suamico School District receive free or reduced lunch.
“Out of all the programs we offer, this is the most attended, and this is the only one where families have to pay,” Feldhausen said. “We always hear stories from families that there is someone who needs this more than they do.”
Immediately after mom or dad use the family store, they then go to the Giving Tree food pantry, where they have more options than a regular food bank for family meals.
Parents with bigger families oftentimes leave with 90 to 100 pounds of food.
Both programs rely 100 percent on donations, even the money spent at the Holiday Store feeds back into the Giving Tree.
The Giving Tree food pantry is a function of the Howard-Suamico School District and donations are tax deductible under 170(c)(1) of the IRS tax code.
Donations for both programs will be accepted until Tuesday, Dec. 11. Shopping at the Holiday Store runs Dec. 11-12, with Dec. 13 as a snow date.
Those interested in making a donation can drop it off at the Green Bay Community Church, home of the Giving Tree, or at Thornberry Cottage.
People can also email Feldhausen with donation questions at [email protected].