GAYVILLE — The Angel Tree has become a regular tradition at the Gayville-Volin school.
Each year, the school's student council puts a tree in the office, and items are donated to benefit the Yankton Women's Shelter. And each year, the tree provides many families in need in the area with vital day-to-day necessities such as toilet paper, soap, food, laundry detergent and other things that some families might not be able to afford.
"We give them a wish list, which are different necessities that families can't afford, and they put stuff under the tree," said Desiree Slaba, an employee for the shelter. "We distribute it out to the families that need it, or we keep it at the facility so they can pick it up here."
The items the students and their families put under the tree aren't just a present for families at Christmas, but for a couple of months afterward as well.
"Several families benefit, and this is the type of thing that has lasted months," Slaba said. "The stuff they have been able to gather in their community is amazing."
It's not just the families who appreciate what Gayville-Volin's Angel Tree has to offer, but also the Women's Shelter. Even though the shelter receives grants, those funds can only be used on certain projects.
"The grants have to be used for people directly affected directly by domestic violence or people in immediate danger," Slaba said. "This just makes it easier because people in need will come in and we have the stuff for them. It's great."
The items that are in the highest needs are paper products like toilet paper, paper towels and paper plates because those kinds of products are not covered by food stamps.
School counselor Natalie Selchert helps put together the Angel Tree project at the school. She knows what some at the shelter may need because she volunteered for the shelter while she was in college. Now she is working to get students involved in the giving season.
"We encourage all students and staff to participate," Selchert said. "It gives them the opportunity to help."
Selchert said it also gives the students a different perspective that not all Christmas lists are like their own.
"Some of them, when they are putting together their lists, have cell phones or iPods, so this helps to put things in perspective for them and to be thankful," she said.
Selchert does her part to promote the giving atmosphere at the school. This year, the class that participates the most will get ice cream sundaes. But it's not determined on how many items are put under the tree, but by the percentage of students who donate something.
"I am not worried about how much they give, just that they contribute," she said.
But that hasn't stopped the students and their families from donating a hefty amount of items. It might not look like there are many items under the tree now, but that's because one of the extra rooms the school has is storing many of the goods — there wasn't much room to walk in the office with all the donations the Angel Tree received.
"Some families really get into it and go above and beyond," Selchert said. "I don't expect it from everyone, but it's exciting to see them think of other people."It's not hard for Selchert to get the word out about the Angel Tree. People in Gayville and Volin have come to expect it every year.
Selchert has seen the tree have an impact on some of the students. "We talk about what the needs are, from what we want and what others want or need, and how different it is," Selchert said. "A lot of them get caught off-guard because they don't think of that on a daily basis."
When all the items are ready to be donated, Selchert brings the members of the student council to the shelter to show them how the materials are used.
"They tour the shelter and someone talks about the services they provide," Selchert said. "It gives them insight on how we try to help, and it makes it more meaningful."
When it's all done, Selchert looks back each year and is always impressed on how much the community donates.
"I am proud of our community for all of their contributions and generosity," she said. "We have a lot of needs here, so to see them donate as much as they do, it just means so much more."
Items for the Angel Tree can be put under the tree in the office at the Gayville-Volin school office.