STUDENT UNION BUILDING — Planned by Associated Students of the University of New Mexico Community Experience, this past Nov. 25 marked the start of the Annual Giving Tree that has been held for over ten years, on display in the Student Union Building.
Candy canes decorated The Giving Tree. Volunteers of the community could pick one, then buy the gift written on the decoration, and bring them to the ASUNM office. Each cane had a specific donation request noted.
The gifts were distributed to the local youth at the UNM Children’s Hospital, APS Title I Albuquerque charter schools, and Casa Q — a residential home for LGBTQ youth ages 14 to 17 years old.
According to Student Activities Specialist Rudy Montoya, each candy cane tag also includes instructions on how to return the gift to ASUNM. The goal is about 150 gifts Montoya said.
“With community support like the Giving Tree, we wouldn’t be able to provide the quality of holidays or Christmas for the kids. We are very very low budget, we don’t have the capability to buy individual gifts for eight kids, so we really reach out to community support like UNM for the Giving Tree. It creates a great environment for them,” said Steven Serrano, the program director at Casa Q.
In an average month in 2019, Casa Q served about six children in the home and seven in the aftercare programs, once the child graduates from the house, they are able to move into their own apartments or a transitional living program. They could also enroll in Casa Q’s aftercare program for support into adulthood.
“The holidays are hard for them. They’re pulled out of their homes. They’re not connected to any natural support from family and kids want specialized gifts so on Christmas morning they can open up gifts, and without UNM’s Giving Tree that wouldn’t happen,” Serrano said.
Casa Q is a home setting, where they have staff 24-hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year.
“UNM’s gifts literally went under the tree or in their stockings with their names on it, and it’s like any other gift to them. We play Santa Claus the night before, they wake up to the gifts in the morning from the community,” Serrano said.
“They give each child exactly what they asked for, it’s not just random gifts, they ask Santa for what they want and then that wish is fulfilled,” said Victoria Berroteran, Child Development Specialist at UNM Children’s Hospital.
UNM Children’s Hospital provides all types of care for children who are in need, from specialized services for complex diseases, developmental disabilities, acute illnesses and emergencies.
It is also New Mexico’s only Children’s Miracle Network hospital, to help provide specialized care to over 66,000 children a year throughout the region, according to their website.
The Children’s Hospital at UNM has a unique way of donating back to the community. With the gifts donated, the hospital staff sets up a store-like environment where children who are admitted into the hospital can go “shopping” although everything is without charge, according to Berroteran.
“They get a ticket that our child life specialist assigns to every family with the amount of children they have in their family including siblings below the age of 18 years old,” Berroteran said. “They get to pick one big gift for each child in their family, and a bunch of stocking stuffers as well.”
The gifts and donations were turned into the ASUNM office by December 9th, 2019 and distributed afterward by volunteers of ASUNM.
Lauren McDonald is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo and can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @laurmcdonald24