Angel Tree. Giving Tree. Jesse Tree. The tree in the narthex with all of the ornaments on it.
Whatever you call it, chances are, you're about to be assembling a large Christmas tree in your narthex or gathering space with a bunch of paper ornaments on it with gifts for children in need in your area.
At my home parish, it was called the Angel Tree, and it was my JAM. It was my first real volunteer project at a church at the tender age of 8, and every year my mom and I would literally spend just about 72 hours straight in the parish basement a few weeks before Christmas sorting gifts, organizing the wrappers, and running to the store to purchase last minute needs.
I'm pretty sure my hand is still cramped from trying to cut out dozens of paper angels every year.
I have so many amazing memories from helping with that drive every year for almost a decade - putting hundreds of gifts into garbage bags designated by family, getting to eat pizza and cookies for every meal for three days, and shopping for extra needs with an incredibly bubbly family friend who would eventually become my Confirmation sponsor and passed away when I was a freshman in college.
These drives are a staple of every Catholic church I've ever encountered - but how exactly do we market it? The giant tree being swarmed by people after Mass is a good start, but how can we take this ministry to the next level this year?
Here are three easy things you can do to market your "tree of many names" this year:
Don't assume everyone knows what it is. Because it's such a staple of every church's Advent, we assume that everyone knows what the tree is and how it functions, but what if someone just moved to the area or converted this year? Some of the instructions vary from church to church - do gifts need to be wrapped? Unwrapped? Does the paper ornament need to be attached to the donation? Each year, give a one or two sentence summary in your communications about what the tree is, how to participate, and who it benefits for those who may not be "in the know."
Get creative with your photos. Everyone takes the classic tree full of ornaments photo and mountains of gifts returned photos. But what if you set up a time lapse of the tree getting assembled and decorated or gifts getting wrapped? Maybe your pastor would do a blessing of the received gifts you could take pictures of. Or even just a closeup image of a few generic ornaments like dolls or toy cars in portrait mode and ask on social media what parishioners' favorite type of that toy was when they were growing up (and drive the nostalgia so they'll try to find the same for a recipient this year).
Make it personal. Requests for philanthropy are prevalent this time of year. Why should someone donate to your tree when they're also getting stopped by the Salvation Army bell ringers, the Boy Scout wreaths, and every nonprofit end-of-year giving campaign? Most likely, the recipients of your tree's gifts are local to you. Do the organizations you donate to have a personal (anonymous) testimony someone could share about the children receiving the gifts? Or maybe one of your longtime tree coordinators could share their memories about serving just like I did. You want to answer the question "why" for your parishioners to stand out among the other heartstring campaigns.
And most of all, don't forget to pray! Oftentimes, these initiatives can seem almost the same as how a secular organization would approach a drive like this, so be sure to find ways you can incorporate prayer and evangelization into your giving drives.
Happy ornament cutting!