MODESTO -- Twenty-seven years ago, it started with a radio station sponsoring a community effort to help fewer than 100 children. Now, more than 3,000 youth will get holiday gifts thanks to the Soroptimist Community Christmas Tree.
Patty Good and JoAnn Found, co-chairwomen of the annual effort to bring the holiday spirit to needy children in the area, spent Friday putting up the tree at Vintage Faire Mall, where it will stand through Dec. 19.
Shoppers are invited to stop by, sign out a tag and then purchase gifts for the child it represents. The Soroptimists wrap the gifts and deliver them through the schools and service agencies they work with to identify needy children.
Many of the mall stores offer discounts to people who are shopping for the Community Christmas Tree, and this year one of the restaurants BJs is offering a free dessert to anyone who comes in with a tag.
"We've gotten so much support from businesses," Found said. When the women visited the stores to see about discounts, they also got promises to take some of the tags. The manager of Build A Bear, for instance, took a family of three children, each of whom wanted to build a bear.
"Some businesses aren't having Christmas parties they're taking (tags for) kids instead," Good said. "We've been seeing more of that."
This year, there are several families with six or seven children in the program. Found said she's keeping those off the tree in the hopes a business, service group or family will take on all the children in one family.
All efforts, large and small, are appreciated. Two car clubs come to the tree to take dozens of names each year, Good and Found said. And recently, one little girl saved loose change all year, swiping anything left around the house. Her parents pledged to match what she collected so she could get presents for a child on the tree.
"She raised $100," Found said. "They didn't expect that. She was so proud." Her efforts benefitted three needy children.
In addition to gifts, the Soroptimists accept cash donations to buy gifts for children whose tags aren't taken, or are taken but aren't returned. Sometimes people forget they checked out a tag, or their own fortunes take a turn for the worse.
"That happens a lot," Found said. "We understand that."
The tree is on the upper level of the mall, 3401 Dale Road, near the Forever 21 store. Cash donations may be sent to P.O. Box 1353, Modesto, 95353. For more information, or to adopt an entire family of children, call JoAnn Found at (209) 985-0074.
Breaking News Editor Patty Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2343.