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Tree of Sharing fills 7,000 gift requests

More than 600 volunteers will serve two-hour shifts at Tree of Sharing tables open from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., from Friday, Nov. 21 to Sunday, Dec. 14, at NorthTown, Riverpark Square and Spokane Valley malls.

Carl and Joan McConnell, Tree of Sharing coor.
Carl and Joan McConnell take over leadership.

They have 7,000 gift requests from 46 agencies this year to help make Christmas brighter for children, adults and seniors, said the new co-directors of the Tree of Sharing, Carl and Joan McConnell.

They will visit the malls every day.

Over the years, the McConnell family has participated by picking up tags at the malls, buying gifts and bringing them back to the mall.

Carl first learned about the program in 1982, when the Spokane Mental Health Center, where he worked at the time, held a party to wrap gifts brought from the Tree of Sharing.  Children he worked with over the year were some of the recipients of gifts.  He coordinated the Tree of Sharing program there for 15 years.

Carl has volunteered with the Tree of Sharing for two years and managed the gift warehouse last year.  From his work in mental health, he is familiar with the agencies making requests.  Carl and Joan volunteered at the mall tables for five years.

Carl grew up in Spokane, earned a bachelor’s in psychology in 1970 and a master’s in 1986 at Eastern Washington University.  He worked more than 20 years with mental health agencies—Mid Columbia Mental Health in Tri Cities and Spokane Mental Health—and 10 years as a public school counselor with ESD #101 and Central Valley Schools.  He retired in August 2013.

In 1978, he met Joan, who graduated from the nursing school at the university of Wisconsin in 1971 and earned a master’s in psychiatric mental health nursing from the University of Washington in 1977.

Joan taught nursing at Washington State University/Intercollegiate Center for Nursing and did nursing administration work at Eastern State Hospital and Sacred Heart Medical Center before working in Residential Care Services for the Department of Social and Health Services.  She retired in May.

Spokane Mental Health’s Child and Family Program was a part of the first year of the Tree of Sharing, when 650 gifts were received.  They are still part of it.

In 1980, Westminster Congregational United Church of Christ started the Tree of Sharing, an independent nonprofit since 2011.   KREM TV became a sponsor in 1982. Run by volunteers, the project continues to serve a growing number of agencies and individuals.

This year Christ Kitchen and four agencies who serve young children are new to the program. 

Agencies make gift requests by mid October. If people call in December to request gifts, volunteers refer them to Toys for Tots, the Spokesman-Review’s Christmas Bureau or other agencies.

Joan said that notebooks at each of the mall tables describe the work of participating agencies.

After requests come in during October, volunteers prepare tags with descriptions of requests.

“Some people are at assisted living centers and have no family or friends to give them gifts, so a Tree of Sharing gift can make their day,” Joan said.  “Some people have no one in their lives. Volunteers do the work out of the goodness of their hearts.”

This year, NorthTown mall gave them a 3,000-square-foot space in an empty store to use for four weeks as their warehouse. 

After gifts are taken to Tree of Sharing tables at the malls, the Washington Air National Guard picks them up twice a week and takes them to the warehouse. Volunteers sort the gifts based on the bar-coded tags.  Agencies that made the requests pick up the gifts at the warehouse.

“Some agencies have many requests, so we try not to save up gifts, but to sort them and have agencies pick them up two or three times,” he said.

The program also needs financial donations, volunteers and people to pick up tags. 

“It’s a small effort with a small budget,” Carl said.  “If some tags are not filled, donations from individuals and some local corporations help fill requests.  Numerica Credit Union, Cancer Care Northwest, Life Center and several other agencies each take up to 200 or more tags.  Some put up their own trees with the tags.”

Advance organizing happens from August to December.

Tree of Sharing partners are Asuris, KREM, the Air National Guard, the STCU and Westminster Congregational United Church of Christ.

For information, call 808-4909 or email mcconnelltos@gmail.com.






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