December 12, 2002

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Yellow Springs librarian Ann Cooper and Olga Harris, founder of the Share the Joy project, with the library’s Christmas tree where local residents can find gift ideas for villagers in need.

Sharing the joy this holiday season

On Christmas morning, children all over Yellow Springs will gleefully open their new Barbie jeeps, their Sony Play Station 2’s, their Chicken Elmos. Sharing their children’s joy will be the mothers and fathers who purchased and wrapped the gifts, as well as some parents who couldn’t afford gifts for their children. Instead of finding nothing under the tree, those children will find their own Barbies and Elmos thanks to the Share the Joy project, a local program that matches local residents in need with those with something extra and a desire to give.

“The program really lives up to its name,” said Yellow Springs Library employee Ann Cooper. “The people who bring in gifts are really happy. They’ve wrapped up their gifts carefully and seem to have found such delight in selecting a gift for a stranger.”

Share the Joy begins each Christmas season with a small tree put up in the Yellow Springs Library. Families in need contact Mary Ann Bebko of the Yellow Springs Emergency Welfare Committee, who writes on a tag the specific need — gloves for a 15-year-old girl, for example, or a warm coat for a toddler. Each family can request three items. The tags are placed on a tree, and villagers who wish to give select a tag. The giver purchases a gift, wraps it and returns it to the library, where Bebko picks it up. Those who requested the gifts pick them up at Bebko’s home, then take them to their own homes to await Christmas morning. No one knows the names of those who give and those who receive.

“I watch the mothers pick up their bags,” said Bebko. “That’s really something. They’re always quiet and grateful and dignified.”

Bebko also said she is “astounded” each year by villagers’ eagerness to pick tags off the tree, and their desire to “do everything they can. The gifts come back so beautifully wrapped. I am in awe.”

Share the Joy works, Bebko believes, because it matches those who wish to give with those who need in a way that allows everyone dignity. Villagers in need — about 55 to 60 individuals a year fill out tags — have great pride, she said, and are often invisible. “They don’t want to be seen. It’s all the more important to remember that they’re there and they’re struggling,” Bebko said.

The program was started 15 years ago, Bebko said, because several local residents wanted to find a way to reach out to those in need during the holiday season. For years such needs had been met in an informal way, with low-income villagers communicating their needs to Bebko, who runs the local Emergency Welfare Committee.

“It was hit and miss,” Bebko said of the program then. “We’d try to find some money.”

More villagers needed to be involved in the giving, Bebko felt. At the same time, Yellow Springs Library employee Olga Harris wanted to come up with a way to find out who was in need. Each year, her friend Juanita Richardson of St. Paul Catholic Church let her know of people in need, but Harris believed many needs went unknown.

One Christmas Harris happened to shop at an area K-mart, where a Christmas tree was decorated with tags that identified local needs anonymously — a winter coat for a woman, for instance, or a doll for a 4-year-old.

“I thought, ‘that’s it,’ ” said Harris, who approached her boss at the library, Charity Dell, about using the library to house a tree since “it’s a central place. The whole village comes to the library.” Dell agreed, and the women approached Bebko to help organize the project. Bebko was delighted, and Share the Joy began.

“Everyone did their little bit,” said Harris. “It just evolved.”

The structure of the program has changed little since its inception 15 years ago — and only the gifts have changed, with the children’s wishes a bit more high tech and the Barbies more glitzy. If a family requests a gift that seems too expensive or picky and no one chooses to buy it, Bebko said she communicates that to the family. Most tags get picked off the tree and the tags for necessities, such as winter clothing or food, are almost always chosen, she said. If they’re not, the Emergency Welfare Committee or the Yellow Springs Police Department, which purchases winter coats for children, will purchase the items.

“Everyone plays a part,” said Bebko. “It’s wonderful.”

A few days before Christmas — the deadline this year is Dec. 22 — all gifts are taken to the library. Library employees enjoy taking part in the program, said Cooper and Harris, who is now retired. Harris said she especially delighted in seeing children bring in Share the Joy presents they had purchased and wrapped themselves.

Bebko said it is also gratifying when families who once requested gifts from the program now take tags from the tree to give gifts to others.

“That,” Bebko said, “is the best part of all.”

—Diane Chiddister

Share the Joy project details

Local residents who need assistance from the Share the Joy project, an effort to provide local children with gifts of toys and clothing, must fill out request forms in the Yellow Springs Library by Friday, Dec. 13. Completed forms should be deposited into a box near the library’s Christmas tree.

Volunteers will code the requests and put tags on the tree. Then, holiday shoppers will choose tags and purchase gifts for those needing assistance. The wrapped gifts, which will have tags attached, will be returned to the library by Sunday, Dec. 22, and decoded. Recipients will be called to pick them up.

Adults asking for special food items or an article of clothing are welcome to use the same request forms, but should keep food and gift requests separate. Food is always available by calling 767-1521.