Story After Story

DATE: Thursday, December 14, 2017

18th annual HCC Giving Tree Campaign fulfills 343 holiday wishes

Joanne Borkowski, assistant director of WestMass ElderCare, offers thanks to the HCC community for their generosity during the annual Giving Tree Campaign.

Here's one story, out of hundreds every year and thousands over the last 18.

It's about Mr. Smith. Widower. Very low income. Lives in a mobile home.  Medical issues. Daughter and granddaughter in California. Typically spends the holidays alone.

As a client of WestMass ElderCare, though, Mr. Smith has been a beneficiary of the annual Holyoke Community College Giving Tree Campaign.

"He's a very proud man, but somewhat embarrassed when the case manager comes in, because his home is modest, run-down, and his clothes are worn," said Joanne Borkowski, assistant director of the Holyoke-based nonprofit.

Last year, through the Giving Tree, he received a $25 gift card to Walmart, his favorite store. With that, he bought a new pair of pajamas and a robe.

The next time I go to the hospital, he told his case manager, I want to look presentable.

"He was thrilled and touched and overwhelmed by that gift," Borkowski said during the closing ceremony for the 18th annual HCC Giving Tree Campaign. "I could go on with story after story of people who are just so overwhelmed with the kindness of the HCC community. They're lonely, they're home most of the time, they're isolated, so when someone reaches out like this and presents them with this kindness, they are so grateful."

This year, through the Giving Tree campaign, the HCC community fulfilled the holiday wishes of 343 individuals from four local nonprofit agencies: WestMass ElderCare, Homework House, the Holyoke Soldiers' Home and the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

During the annual campaign, which lasts from early November through the middle of December, Giving Trees are set up in designated areas around campus. Participants choose colored-coded tags from one of the four agencies based on the age of the recipient and their wish for a gift. The wrapped gifts are then piled on tables for the closing celebration when HCC faculty, staff, and students join with representatives from the agencies to distribute the gifts and share food and stories.

"This event is so very meaningful to our community. It is a privilege to be able to support the wonderful work of our partners and friends," HCC president Christina Royal said during the celebration in a videotaped message. "The work you do throughout the year makes a real difference in the lives of our most vulnerable neighbors. When I was a child, services like these helped my mother ensure that our family had a happy holiday, so thank you. I think the display of gifts around this room reflects the enthusiasm our students, faculty and staff have for this event. I am extremely proud to be part of this community."

To see more photos, please go to the album on HCC's Facebook page.

PHOTOS: (Above) Joanne Borkowski, assistant director of WestMass ElderCare, offers thanks to the HCC community for their generosity during the annual Giving Tree Campaign. (Thumbnail) Sister Jane Morrissey, site supervisor at Homework House, gets an eyeful of presents as they are hauled away.