Over the past few weeks, the Student Leadership Council has been directing the Giving Tree project, a charity allowing students to donate gifts to underprivileged members of the community this Christmas season.

By connecting with pastors, members of local churches and society outreach leaders, the SLC compiled a list of gifts they felt would be a blessing to the people who attend those ministries. The SLC wrote many gifts ideas, which ranged from toy cars to sparkly nail polish to puzzles, on tags and hung them on two Christmas trees on campus. Students could then take a tag, purchase the gift, wrap it and place it back under the Christmas tree. The outreach leaders would then collect and distribute the gifts to people in their ministries as Christmas gifts.

The Giving Tree will benefit many ministries and people, going beyond just giving them a gift, but giving them hope as well.

Outreach leaders Esther Brown, a graduate assistant, and Darlene Sarracino, a junior nursing major, each work at different ministries. But when it comes to choosing which children will receive gifts from the Giving Tree, both Brown and Sarracino want to focus on the unsaved children at their children’s club ministries.

They’ve been sacrificing and reaching out to these kids for over a year, trying to show Christ’s love to them, but Sarracino said it could be a small gift that shows the kids someone cares, opening their eyes to the Gospel.

“We especially hope that it will give us more opportunity to talk to the kids’ parents,” Sarracino said. “We don’t usually get a chance to talk to [the parents], but if we come with a gift in hand, it might open the door to start a conversation. It really shows them that someone cares about them.”

Brown helps with a Friday night ministry at Agnew Road Baptist Church, and she has similar hopes for the gifts from the Giving Tree:

“I think the gifts will help further our goals of evangelism and discipleship. I think this will really help strengthen our relationships with the kids and their families,” she said. “If we don’t have [those] relationships, then we can’t witness effectively, so the gifts are really important as far as that goes.”

Matthew Wells, a sophomore Bible major, helps at Crestwood Falls Bible Club. When it comes time to choose which children to give the gifts to, he wants to focus on the children who came to know Christ this past year, hoping it will be an example of how believers should love each other.

“It’s really exciting because we get to give these kids a gift and say, ‘hey, you’ve now accepted Christ as your Savior. You’re now accepted into a body of believers who all believe the same thing you do, and because of that they don’t even know you, but they love you. So even though they may not meet you until heaven, they still want to sacrifice for you and say they love you,’” Wells said.

In some ways the charity really hasn’t done anything new: the workers at these various outreaches have been telling the people who attend week after week that Jesus loves them. But Jesus’ love sometimes needs to come in a different form, one that’s more tangible, like warm blankets or kids’ shoes. The gifts are given in hope that the people who receive them will look past the small earthly gifts and see the greatest gift: the love of Christ and His gift of Salvation.

Donations to the Giving Tree project will be collected through Sunday, Dec. 8.