It’s not often that you set up a tree to take ornaments off. However, with Augustana’s Christmas Giving Program, un-decorating is this year’s sanctioned Christmas activity.
Christmas Giving is sponsored by the Serving and Learning Together club (SALT) and is meant to encourage students to spread a little more holiday joy each year. Every Christmastime for over 10 years, SALT has set up 12 trees: six in the residence halls, three in the academic buildings (Madsen, Gilbert Science Center and Humanities) one in the Elmen Center, one in the president’s office and one in the chapel.
Each tree is decorated with brightly colored construction paper cut-outs. Perhaps a student will choose to pluck a star from the boughs. Perhaps a staff member will pick an evergreen from between the branches. And perhaps a bright snowman will be left hanging, beckoning from the tree, waving to each person passing by to come, fulfill the magic-marker request penned across its belly, and add one more gift to the list this season.
These requests vary in both gift type and price, senior and SALT president Brooke Walker said. Walker acknowledges that students do not have their stockings stuffed with cash. All price tags of the gifts under 10 dollars. “We want to make it so that anyone on campus can go pick it up [a gift request] and get it,” Walker said.
“It’s all about making everybody feel like they can do something if they want to.” Each item, once purchased, is to be returned to a Christmas Giving collection box located at the base of every SALT tree.
SALT members begin their Christmas season as early as October, meeting to decide what gift suggestions should hang from the trees. Present ideas range from games and toys to bathrobes and stocking caps, with the most popular donations being bath supplies and warm weather gear.
“We make sure we get a good amount of both adult presents and presents for children,” Walker said.
SALT also works to get a good amount of presents donated. Augustana’s director of volunteer services and SALT Adviser Billy Thomas said that SALT collected over 1,000 presents last year, exceeding the goal of 900. The goal this year? 1,100 presents, Walker said.
The presents are wrapped on the last night of the program and sent to four different organizations: Lutheran Social Services, The Children’s Home, The Heartland House and Children’s Inn.
It’s a bit unorthodox. There are no stockings, Santa isn’t coming to town, and the tree limbs will become emptier as the season progresses. But for another year, one thing remains the same: SALT provides another way to spread the warmth of the season.
The program runs until December 12th. One can donate a present to the Christmas Giving Program by taking an ornament from a designated giving tree and return the item(s), unwrapped, to the collection box by any giving tree. Attach the ornament to your gift. Students and staff are also encouraged to help by meeting SALT representatives on Dec. 12 in Student Street to help wrap the collected gifts.