If you walk into Gwynn’s Coffeehouse at the right time in December, you’ll see a Christmas tree bedecked with lights and a very unusual type of ornaments. Rather than the usual balls and baubles, this tree is covered in more than 100 tags, each with a number, gender and age.
You’d better hurry, though — those tags go fast.
It’s the Canby Now Giving Tree, and despite being one of the community’s newer holiday traditions, it’s something that brings joy to dozens of families and children in need each year.
Lisa Leir, founder and administrator of the Canby Now Facebook group, which boasts over 21,000 members, said she started the Giving Tree in 2014, the same year as Canby Now.
Her reasoning was very simple — and very personal.
“I received help from giving trees when my kids were little,” she tells The Canby Current. “Kids are my heart and soul, and without the help of others, my kids would have had a few bleak Christmases.”
It started with a single family, with five children, who reached out to her that first year. She posted the need in Canby Now, and the response was overwhelming.
“I think each child in that family got about 12-15 gifts each that year,” she says.
Though Leir stresses that the Giving Tree would not be remotely possible without the support of Canby Now and the Canby community, she handles a lot of the administration herself.
She starts asking in October for referrals of local people or families who might need help for Christmas. She also allows self-referrals for a period of time.
“I ask each person about clothing sizes and things the kids like to complete the master list and make the tags,” Leir explains. “I have always handwritten the tags until this year, when I got smart and did it on the computer.”
The second year, the Giving Tree grew to 50 children, then doubled again the following year. She kept it at 100 for a few years, until 2020, when — not surprisingly — things just sort of “snowballed.”
“I had some last-minute additions because I just can’t say no, and we are helping 143 kids from 55 families,” Leir said.
Despite the higher numbers and higher need, the generosity of the Canby community was on full display. The tags flew off the tree in only eight days.
“Usually takes a good two weeks to get rid of all the tags,” Leir says.
Once the gifts are received back, they are hand-wrapped by Leir and other volunteers. The numbers of kids are eye-popping on their own, of course, but when you account for the fact that each child gets at least three or four gifts, it really adds up exponentially.
“Over 500 gifts,” Leir says. “I normally do a wrapping party at the library with about 15 people come help me wrap gifts. It takes me about five hours to do it all, set up, wrap and tear down. Takes about three hours to wrap.”
Because of coronavirus restrictions, things are a little different this year. Leir has enlisted the help of her three boys, as well as two friends.
“The six of us are going to wrap them all; I figure it will take us two days,” she says with a laugh.
Leir praised her son, Jeff, who is the “muscle” behind the operation.
“He pretty much helps me with everything,” she says. “He goes to get the gifts from Gwynn’s with me and carries them to the car. He goes through each bag with me to make sure that there is an appropriate amount. He also carries everything into the library when we have our wrapping party.”
And, of course, she gives thanks to Canby.
“There is no way I could do this without the Canby community,” she says. “They are the ones that make the whole program. I thank everyone for all their giving hearts.”