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Their eyes light up and they smile as a beautifully-wrapped package is given to them. No matter what it contains, it is a wish come true. It may be the only gift they receive this Christmas.
Generous Antelope County donors have been making holiday spirits brighter for those in need for more than three decades. The Ribbon Tree program was started by the Nebraska Health and Human Services in 1985, according to Patti Brady who has been in charge of the program for the past 25 years.
“They saw a need in the area and wanted to help local families,” Brady said of its origin. “And it has just continued.”
Now the Ribbon Tree program is co-sponsored by HHS and the Neligh-Oakdale FCCLA. Those in need are invited to fill out an application, which is then coded and sent to the FCCLA students. The students cut out paper ribbons and attach a coded wish list. The red ribbons are for children’s wishes and the green ribbons are adults. FCCLA members set up a Christmas tree at both Pinnacle Bank and Heritage Bank in downtown Neligh and then hang the ribbons displaying gift suggestions. Anyone is then able to choose one or more ribbons to purchase gifts. The donors are asked to wrap and return the gifts, with the ribbon attached, to the banks by Dec. 15. FCCLA members pick up all of the gifts and take them to the courthouse for dispersal.
FCCLA advisor Kim Scarborough said her students invest a lot of time into the project each year, working during their free time at school and even after school.
“We spend quite a few hours, by the time we cut all of the ribbons out, probably 10-12 hours,” she said.
Brady said the Neligh-Oakdale FCCLA chapter plays a vital role in the program.
“Without the kids from FCCLA, it would be a hard project to put together,” she said. “ And we're slowly going to have the young woman's club start helping with the Ribbon Tree to where they will be taking it over from HHS.”
In addition to the Ribbon Tree project, Brady said many Christmas gifts come to the HHS from other sources. Pope John and St. Boniface students, along with parishioners from St. Boniface and St. Bonaventure churches, collect unwrapped gifts. Bomgaars donates gift items and the Brunswick Congregational Church gives them gift cards as well. These items are then used as a shopping experience for those less fortunate, allowing them to select free gifts for their family.
“The families are always very appreciative when they get things,” Brady said. “They're polite and thank us. Some of them ask who gave the donations and where they can send a thank you note. Because of the confidentiality, I tell them they don't have to sign their names. They're just very appreciative.”
Scarborough said the Ribbon Tree project is “a great opportunity for the FCCLA to help others.”
Skylar Long, FCCLA vice president of public relations, said the 34-member Neligh-Oakdale FCCLA chapter took a couple ribbons and others were chosen by individual FCCLA members, the FBLA, the FFA and the education association.
“So a bunch of people from the (Neligh-Oakdale) school took some and then the public took some from the banks,” Long said. “I think it’s important because I was able to give something to someone that may not have been able to get it for themselves, or their parents were not able to give it to them. It makes me feel good that I could go out and buy something and give it to them. Then they can get something they wanted or needed.”
The project’s success relies on the generosity of many, Scarborough said.
“I like seeing everybody bring their gifts in, seeing the community pooling their funds to buy gifts and helping everybody have a great Christmas,” she said.
Lesly Luna, FCCLA district president and chapter representative, agreed.
“It’s an important project because I feel like we should all have a nice Christmas,” Luna said. “It’s a way of giving back to our community and making sure every little kid has something for Christmas. And it shows that we do care for each other and that we’re willing to give back to others.”