The Giving Tree is an annual Christmas event that has been sponsored by the Delano Union School District (DUESD) for the last six years. This event is led by the director of Student Support Services, Tina Tyler Smith, and the district’s mental health team members.
“It is a time where district employees and others can make a child’s wish come true by anonymously sponsoring a child for the holidays,” said Smith. “Through the efforts of our Board of Trustees, Superintendent Rosalina Rivera, and the support of the community at large, we are able to make projects like this possible and ensure that students and their families are connected to the resources they need to enjoy a warm and happy holiday season.”
The Giving Tree is an event that was designed to help foster youth and McKinney-Vento (homeless) families.
“Due to the many challenges in the world, including economic crises, natural disasters, etc., we have seen an increase in the number of children that we serve that fall into these categories,” said Smith. “Our district understands that times are difficult and it is especially difficult for students that are away from their biological families for the holidays and those not living in stable conditions.”
Smith said the Giving Tree started as a part of one of the district’s efforts to support some of the most vulnerable students for Christmas.
“It was a great time for all of our foster youth and McKinney-Vento families and their children to get together for food, fun, family crafts, and pictures with Santa. For the last two years, we had to have drive-through events, with the help of Santa and a few of his elves at the forefront, which has also been very successful,” said Smith.
Smith said she does this to help students feel the support of a larger district family during the holidays. However, this is just one event that is put on for the students during the year. There are other events, resources, and incredible services that are provided by the school sites, social workers, school psychologists, marriage & family therapists, and academic counselors, and so many others.
“Though this is a busy time of the year, it is also one of the best. We spend a great deal of time building relationships with the families and the students and getting to know some of their stories,” said Smith. “We are so proud to see them thrive regardless of their circumstances. It is such a joy to see them smile as they get something they want or need. It is even more of a joy to play the part of Santa and make a child smile despite how difficult their journey must be.”
One story that stands out to Smith is that of a little boy that only asked for a stuffed animal. As they all watched the students open their gifts, it warmed their hearts as he hugged his stuffed animal, kissed it, and looked at it as though it was a long-lost friend.
“He didn’t want to let it go. He was so happy that he forgot about the other things that were in his bags,” said Smith.
Another story Smith never forgets is of a mother who was overwhelmed with gratitude and came back in tears thanking them for what they had done. She said she had no money and didn’t know what she was going to do. She was grateful that they were able to make her children’s Christmas a reality.
“We would highly encourage anyone that loves putting smiles on children’s faces to donate and get involved in this event. It is so amazing. It is a tree that keeps on giving. That is what the giving tree event is all about,” said Smith.