Giving the gift of Joy

Bobbi Sands

ABOUT 40 000 needy people in Nelson Mandela Bay have received Christmas gifts through the Tree of Joy initiative over the past 13 years.
This year, 3200 disadvantaged children and pensioners will find a present under the Christmas Tree – and it is all because residents are opening their hearts.
The annual Rotary Tree of Joy has been erected in the Greenacres shopping centre and there are still 1800 cards to choose from to give a gift to someone less fortunate.
Many of the beneficiaries on the cards will otherwise not receive a gift this Christmas.
The initiative was brought to Port Elizabeth by the PE West Rotary Club and soon became such a huge venture that Rotarians around the city have become involved. “It was started in 1998 with very few charities,” said Mel Smethurst from Rotary PE West.
“We approached charities in the city with the idea and it just grew from there.”
This year the Tree of Joy has beneficiaries from 38 organisations around the city.
When it started it kicked off with just over 1000 cards.
They have had more than 4000 cards in past years, however Smethurst said due to the economic climate at the moment many charities had to be turned away.
The concept of the tree is that residents take a card off the tree with the recipient’s name and age and what they want for Christmas. After buying and wrapping the gift they return it to the Tree of Joy and it is then handed out to the relevant charity organisation by the Rotarians.
Many requests range from shoes to underwear, toys and in some cases stationary for the next school year.
Some of the beneficiaries from the frail care and adult centres have asked for simple things like toiletries or luxuries they would not normally afford.
Kate Cathcart from Zanathemba in Walmer – a temporary home for orphaned, abused and neglected children – said the children would not receive Christmas gifts if not for Tree of Joy.
“We often have second hand goods to give the children and sometimes new donations,” said Cathcart.
“It is absolutely wonderful that so many people are willing to buy gifts for those less fortunate than them.
“It’s encouraging to see the community responding to the needs of others.”
She said many people were in situations through no fault of their own and needed support from the residents of the city.
The children under Zanethemba have asked for various things like soccer balls and toys.
Tree of Joy coordinator Angela Newton said there were many people who weren’t asking for luxuries and it broke her heart to see some of the requests.
“People ask for such simple things like shoes, chips, Coca-Cola and stationery – items that we would normally take for granted.”
Benny Stadler from Lake Farm centre for disabled adults said they catered for about 20 residents who either didn’t have families or financial support and a gift from Rotary meant they had something to look forward to.
“As a charity we raise about 50% of the funds needed to run the centre and with projects like these our residents don’t feel rejected and forgotten.
“Many residents have elderly parents who cannot afford luxuries on their pensions and this brings joy and cheer.”
Nursing manager at the Lorraine Frail Care Centre, Soda Areff, said it was a highlight of the year for the 115 adult residents.
“This paves the way for a positive and joyous beginning to the new year.
“It is also with humility and appreciation that the staff members of the centre witness the delight and excitement radiating from the residents’ faces who eagerly await the gift being placed in their hands.”
The tree will be at the food court of the Greenacres centre until December 20 and is manned by a Rotarian from 9am to 6pm.

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