YWCA Touches Lives Through the Giving Tree Project

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday December 11, 2007

In a small backroom of the UC Berkeley YWCA, Santa’s little helpers are hard at work.  

They are wrapping presents, checking wish lists and rushing to get presents delivered to those who are less fortunate this Christmas. 

The helpers are the center’s student volunteer board—a group of UC Berkeley students—who are taking part in the Giving Tree Project. 

Coordinated by the Alameda County Salvation Army, the project lets students and community members choose a tag from one of the Giving trees and purchase a new gift for a needy child. 

Volunteers from the YWCA then sort the gifts by age, gender and wish and wait for the Salvation Army to pick them up for distribution on Dec. 17. 

“We request approximately fifty students from Alameda County for the Giving Tree,” said Jenny De Runtz, who oversees the project at the center. 

“Our sponsors include individuals as well as organizations. No one gets to know the names of the children the gifts will be donated to. The Salvation Army gives us a report after the event is over.” 

Wishes can range from the simple to the extravagant. This year’s most expensive gift—an electric guitar—same with a $100 price tag. 

A 10-year-old wanted a science kit—by far the most popular gift on the list—while another aimed for a skateboard. 

So far, the center has been able to attract up to 19 sponsors for 36 children. 

“Some frats have sponsored ten kids,” De Runtz said. “The Cal Band has bought gifts for eight.” 

The volunteers also organize a food and toy drive which are then packed and distributed to needy families through the Salvation Army. 

“We do it because it’s a way to reach out to the community and to get involved in making their wishes come true,” said UC Berkeley Mass Communication and Sociology major Sharon Ma. 

“Even if we are not the primary organizations we are doing our part to connect the children to them. Our location is accessible for people and we try to make it easy for volunteers and sponsors to help out ... In the future we would like to see more people giving during the holidays.” 

For UC Berkeley junior Catherine Brittain, the Giving Tree Project provides an opportunity to de-stress right before the finals. 

“Shopping for gifts is exciting,” she told the Planet last week. “We end up touching so many lives in the process.” 

The Giving Tree Project and the Toy and Food Donation will continue until Dec. 14. 

For sponsorships and donations contact: The YWCA at UC Berkeley, 2600 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, CA 94704, (510) 848-6370.