Cluster’s giving tree gives people chance to embody the Christmas spirit

Christ Our Hope project aids seven families in need

By Jill Kruse-Domeyer
Witness Editorial Assistant

PROTIVIN — Christ Our Hope’s giving tree project is an opportunity for parishioners of the cluster to make Christmas brighter for low-income families in the area. This year, the project is assisting 25 children and their parents from seven different families.

Every year at Christ Our Hope, tags are created — each with a need of an area child or family written on it — and placed on Christmas trees in the six parishes of the cluster. This year, 148 tags were divided out to the churches. The cluster partners with Northeast Iowa Community Action Corp (NEICAC), which knows the families in the area that are in need and is able to provide the cluster with an anonymous list.

The list includes the ages of the children in need, clothing sizes, and toys they may like or areas of interest. The parents also list needed household items. The tags are created based on those needs. Each family also gets tags for cleaning and personal hygiene items, paper products, and gas or food gift cards.

Martin Ahrndt, the cluster’s faith formation director, who also coordinates the giving tree project, said he has been overwhelmed by the support of parishioners. “Often a person will take a tag meant to be returned with one toy or item of interest and instead there will be a large gift bag with several wrapped items. The baskets of paper products and cleaning (supplies) truly become laundry baskets full of items,” he said.

One of the most inspirational experiences for Ahrndt came last year when a family moved into the area, too late to be part of NEICAC’s program. The family included a husband and wife, their four children and three orphaned nephews. The mother reached out to the parish after hearing about the giving tree project.

“I felt bad telling the mom that we could not add them to our project that year because we had already committed to the families we got from NEICAC,” Ahrndt said, “but I told her I would see what I could do.” The very next day Ahrndt said he received a call from a woman from a local business looking for a family to sponsor. Ahrndt told her about the call he’d received the day before. “She was thrilled to have her company sponsor that family, and I was joy filled to call that mom and let her know her kids would have Christmas presents that year.”

For many families of the cluster, the giving tree project has become a ­tradition and a way for parents to teach their children about God’s call to give to others. While the project exists to help families in need, Ahrndt said he has witnessed how God has used it “to open the hearts and bring true joy to the souls of those who give the gifts,” as much, or maybe even more, joy as those receiving the gifts each Christmas.


A giving tree similar to the one above was present at all six parishes of the Christ Our Hope Cluster. (Contributed photo)