Wilmette, Community

Avoca families help each other in special year for giving tree program

Giving trees are a staple of the holiday’s charitable season. 

The concept is simple: A person or family in need — whose needs are often listed on a note and hung from a tree — is selected and provided for during the holidays. 

The names of those in need are usually hidden; though, knowing the ones in need are part of the community adds a personal touch to each program.

Avoca District 37’s version of a giving tree took the community piece a step further this year. 

Every family in need was an Avoca family.

“There was even more staff participation this year, because they are helping students they are actually teaching,” said Jen Rachmiel, the staff sponsor for Avoca’s Roots and Shoots Club, which organized the program.

For the most part, Avoca’s extra-curricular activities, such as school clubs, have been on hiatus in 2020 because of COVID-19. 

A group of students, however, fought to keep Roots and Shoots, a division of the nationwide service club founded by Jane Goodall, alive during the holidays so they could give back. 

But they did run into a problem. In past year’s, the group has partnered with an area organization with a tree-full of families in need. This year, some organizations were not doing the program while others had more than enough givers to cover the need. 

The giving program had no one to give to. 

Then, the district had the idea to help its own community. Beth Dever, the chief school business officer, contacted all of the families that qualify for the district’s free-lunch program. 

Margot Swibel, an Avoca seventh-grader, drops off a gift for one of the 22 families sponsored in the giving tree program.

Twenty-two of the families, which the district said is about two-thirds of those in the lunch program, anonymously participated and submitted wishlists.

The students in the Roots and Shoots club found “lots of fun ways to advertise” and organize the gift-giving until all families were covered, said club member Margot Swibel. 

Seventh-grader Stella Baber-Ciabarella was excited to help other children because she knows the feeling of opening gifts on Christmas.

“It’s really important,” she said. “I know I like gifts and getting something new. And the surprise element is really special.”

For Lucie Kolot, also in seventh grade, it was a win-win. She likes helping others and she likes shopping for and wrapping presents.

“It means a lot to me,” she said. “Helping others makes me really, really happy.”

Plus, Amalia Baber-Ciabarella pointed out, some of the gifts are items these families really need.

“It’s really fun to come together and provide something they might need like clothes or coats or food,” she said. 

joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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