FORT KENT---“Giving trees” can be found in all four of the churches of St. John Vianney Parish (St. Louis Church in Fort Kent, St. Mary Church in Eagle Lake, St. Joseph Church in Wallagrass, and St. Charles Borromeo Church in Saint Francis). The sight of them enlivens those who pass by with a reminder that the Advent season is underway and Christmas approaches.
For hundreds of other local people, however, the “giving trees” represent hope, kindness, and the generosity of strangers.
“A small group of dedicated volunteers give hours and hours of their own time to lead the Giving Tree Project,” said Laura Audibert, the chairperson for the social justice and peace commission at St. John Vianney Parish in Fort Kent.
The work began in October when Audibert contacted social service agencies to get referrals for individuals and families in need this Advent and to learn what kinds of items they would need.
“We have 293 people on the list,” said Audibert. “Their needs were each printed on a tag and placed on the tree. The recipients range in age from newborns to the elderly.”
Among the items listed on the trees are gift cards for food, gas, and clothing; winter items, like jackets, gloves, and hats; diapers; and a wide variety of toys and dolls. Tags are also placed on the trees for cash donations to enable the purchase of more gifts and maximize the amount of help the parish can deliver.
The agencies who provided the names of those who could use assistance included Aroostook Mental Health Services; the Hope & Justice Project, which offers social support services and group support for anyone affected by abuse and violence in Aroostook County; the Pregnancy Care Center of Aroostook; Life by Design, a mental health and substance abuse center in Fort Kent; and the Aroostook County Action Program, which provides the people of Aroostook County with services and resources that help individuals and families achieve greater economic independence.
Once the names were received, a database was created to make tags describing the age, need, and desires of the future recipients. The system is efficient, but requires a small number of volunteers.
“It’s hard to involve too many people since we try to maintain client confidentiality,” said Audibert. “We need to stay focused so all the gifts go to the correct people.”
In the coming weeks, the presents will fill the halls, offices, and even the space in front of the altar at St. Louis Church in Fort Kent. Each recipient will be called to pick up their gifts or to arrange a time for delivery. The Giving Tree Project is a non-denominational offering to all communities where St. John Vianney Parish has a presence.
“We’ve been doing this since 2003 and none of it would be possible without the generosity of the parishioners and the wider community,” said Audibert. “This is a massive project and all of the success is due to people working together for a common cause: offering joy to all.”
To learn how you can help with the Giving Tree Project, call the parish office at (207) 834-5656.