Four organizations will become the recipients of a variety of gifts this holiday season, courtesy of The Giving Tree, a longstanding Christmas tradition celebrated each year by First United Methodist Church of Jefferson City.
Thorpe Gordon Elementary School, Jefferson City Academic Center, Fresh Start Market and Common Ground Community Building will all receive contributions, either in the form of a gift or a donation, from First United's churchgoers and community members at large.
The Giving Tree -- represented by an actual tree -- is a Christmas tree adorned with dozens of tags, some shaped as Christmas ornaments, with specific gifts listed on them and chosen according to the needs of the organizations.
Shampoo, socks, dress-up kits and Play-Doh are just some of the more than 100 gift tags hanging off the tree.
"It's just a wonderful opportunity to meet specific needs during this holiday season," said the Rev. Karen Taylor, one of three pastors at First United Methodist Church.
There are four ways to participate in the gift-giving tradition.
The first -- which doesn't begin until Saturday -- involves churchgoers and community members coming into the church, picking a tag off the tree and purchasing the item listed.
The other three include making a purchase off of an Amazon list provided by the church, making a monetary donation or having items shipped directly to the church.
Once the items have been purchased and brought back to the church, designated persons and different members of the community pick them up and deliver them.
This is one of the Rev. Taylor's favorite parts.
"It's exciting to be a part of this, especially when we deliver the items," Taylor said. "Usually the students from Jefferson City Academic Center come and help collect the items that we've collected, and they just seem so excited."
One particular instance she remembers is when a teacher requested a marimba for her class.
"When we brought it in, she just burst out in tears," Taylor said.
Along with teachers, students and other community members, four families will also benefit from this tradition as being a part of Families Forward, a housing assistance program provided by Common Ground Community Building.
Whatever items they need, Common Ground Executive Director Tina Mollenkamp said it will make a difference.
"Most of our clients live kind of on the edge, and so every dollar matters," Mollenkamp said. "It's difficult for them to spend money on extra things like Christmas presents, so we like to help them to have a Christmas."
According to Mollenkamp, her clients generate the lists of the items they need most, which is then being forwarded to Taylor. From then, depending on the size of the list, accommodations are being made to meet those needs.
"We tried to make sure we had something for everybody," Mollenkamp said, referring to both herself and Taylor.
Common Ground has been partnering with First United Methodist Church for years -- except for last year since they didn't have clients for the Families Forward program at the time, Mollenkamp said.
Even though The Giving Tree isn't officially open until Saturday, the list on Amazon is active and purchases can be made. Inside the church, next to the tree, a sign is provided with a scannable QR code leading to the list which churchgoers can use.
Monetary donations and shipping items to the church is also currently available. All contributions should be delivered by the Dec. 14 deadline.
Every gift, every contribution, no matter how small, is valuable and serves a purpose, Taylor said.
"The teachers at Thorpe Gordon ... these are mostly just supplies that they need just to be able to teach," Taylor said. "And how appreciative they are of simple things that we are able to provide for them to help them do their job. It's a huge blessing to experience that."