Of all the touching tales, there's always one that hits you harder in the gut.
This one, courtesy of Sister Jane Morrissey, a site coordinator at Homework House in Holyoke:
It's about a young boy. One of six children being raised by a single mother. Small apartment. Not a lot of money.
"He's the oldest boy," she said, "and that often means you're the man in the family."
Thanks to the Holyoke Community College Giving Tree campaign, now in its 17th year, the boy and his siblings who attend the after school program at Homework House, are able to have presents, which they can select from prepared lists: one from column A, or two from column B, or three from column C. The younger kids usually choose C, the three smaller presents.
"Giving children a choice is often the best of all gifts," she said.
The boy so wanted a basketball. But after a lot of agonizing, going back to the lists again and again to make sure he'd made the right decision, he settled on a $25 gift card to a local store.
"It wasn't for himself," said Sister Jane. "It was to give it to his mom."
Homework House is one of four local nonprofit agencies that benefit each year from HCC's Giving Tree Campaign, along with WestMass Elder Care, the Mass. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the Holyoke Soldiers' Home.
This year the HCC community collected and donated 306 gifts to clients of those four agencies. Thursday, the 17th annual Giving Tree campaign came to a close with a reception, presentation of gifts and the telling of stories.
"We're in the business of helping new life come into the world," said Angie Morrell, regional director of Prevention Services for the Mass. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. "Often our families have to choose between rent and food or buying gifts. This really means more to them than I can put into words. For that we are truly grateful."
Bill Fogarty, HCC interim president, acknowledged the significant role students played his year: HCC's Student Senate created the 306 gift tags that were hung on the college's three Giving Trees; the Green Key Honor Society logged the tags as they were selected; and the HCC Military Club held a fundraiser to buy gifts.
"Thanks to all the agencies for letting us do this every year," he said. "This is a shot in the arm for us too. It's a lot of work, but we're happy to do it."
PHOTOS by CHRIS YURKO: (Left) Angie Morrell, right, from the MSPCC carries out children's gifts donated by the HCC community through the 17th annual Giving Tree campaign. (Right) Representatives from WestMass Elder care start hauling out the many gifts donated to their clients.