Lisa Hill has been a Christmas angel to hundreds of needy children over the past 15 years, although they'll never know her name. She, in turn, will never know the impact she's had on those young lives.
The single Modesto mom of 7-year-old twins chooses up to 45 tags each year from the Soroptimist Community Christmas Tree at Vintage Faire Mall. She hopes one day to take 100 from the tree, which is full of tags with the names and needs of low-income children up to age 17.
"As a teacher, I look out for opportunities to help kids," said Hill, who works as a pre-algebra instructor and math coach at Creekside Middle School in Patterson. "The kids are often in circumstances that they don't have control over. They can't get what they need. Sometimes their parents are just making ends meet, if that.
"I just feel so blessed. God has given me two wonderful children (Merritt and Andrew) that I can care for. This is one of my ways of thanking God for that."
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Modesto Bee
Hill said the activity started when she was a teen.
"My mom and I would go out and get a couple of names together. It was a mother-daughter thing. We'd take a boy and a girl. One of those years, my younger brother couldn't decide what to give my mom or dad, so he took a name and bought the gifts in their honor."
Several years passed when Hill was a college student and young adult and wasn't in town or didn't have the money to participate. About 15 years ago, she started her giving habit again.
"I'd take just a couple of tags," she said. "But when I took the gifts back, I would wander around the tree and see a couple more names and take them. I'd do that a few times. I was up to about 20 and I thought, 'Why don't I just take that many to begin with?' "
Hill begins stocking up in January every year, buying toys for $5 on clearance that once sold for $20.
"Target is one of the best places," she said. "They'll have their 75 percent off aisle. I have a couple of friends who watch for me and call when it comes up. They also have really good clothes sales at the end of the season. Kohl's is good, too."
Hill's vintage home has a room under a stairway. By Thanksgiving, the room is stuffed with totes and tubs full of children's clothes and toys and other gift items. It's empty now; she chose her tags and delivered her gifts to the Soroptimist volunteers earlier this month.
Hill doesn't seek publicity over her good deeds. It takes some persuasion to get her to admit she also supports the St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital and has helped get some of her students coats, clothes and shoes. She doesn't think her penchant for giving is any big deal.
But Carolyn Crook of Modesto, who knows the family, said she is amazed by Hill's generosity.
"It's just inspiring to see someone who's a single mom making the effort and helping other people," Crook said. "She just puts her heart into it. When you see someone who takes such a great interest, it makes me stand back and think I could be doing so much more."
Hill doesn't feel like a role model.
"I don't spend nearly as much as I should," she said. "Tithing is 10 percent of your income. That's a big chunk. This year, I may have spent $2,500 (on children from the Soroptimist tree). I'm a math teacher. I know that's not 10 percent.
"As far as money goes, I'm just in a different mind-set. God helped me get a job to pay the bills. It's all his plan. It's not my money, it's God's money."
Hill admitted that she's a good manager of her income.
"My mom's a bookkeeper," she said. "She's the person who's very good with money. I get it from her."
What does she want others to know about the gift tree?
"My aunt came up with the best thing," Hill said. "One year, she went out to the mall to buy one more present for her kids from Santa. She said to herself, 'Do my kids need one more thing or do these kids need just one thing?' I wish more people would think like that.
"Another great idea is what my brother did, to take a child in honor of my parents, who didn't need anything in the world."
Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2012.