Hundreds of MIT students, faculty, and staff secretly played Santa Claus to support community service agencies in Cambridge and Boston through the 2015 MIT Giving Tree program, organized by the Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center. “We have a wide range of donors with different motivations,” said Sarah Bouchard, community engagement administrator for the PKG Center. “Some individuals want to buy gifts for one specific child. Groups and departments team up to buy gifts and bring or ship them to our office. Overall, the donors really pulled together this year.”
Ten local community service agencies submitted wish lists to the PKG Center with requests ranging from particular gifts for individual children to personal care and toiletry items for high-risk teens experiencing homelessness. The requests were written on tags, then distributed starting immediately after Thanksgiving by the PKG Center in bunches to groups — from fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups to academic departments — or one-by-one to community members who dropped by their office in 4-104. A total of 938 gifts were donated by the time gift drop-off closed on Dec. 11, a nearly 30 percent jump over 2014’s total.
One sentiment echoed by many donors to the PKG Center staff is excitement that the gifts are going to local agencies. “Donors liked knowing that their generosity will support neighbors in the communities around MIT,” Bouchard said. That local touch is intentional. “The Giving Tree is a great way to strengthen relationships with local agencies,” she added. "That, in turn, opens the possibility for more public service collaboration between MIT students and the local community in the future. There are many chances to engage with these partners throughout the year, often at times further away from the enthusiasm of the holiday season when community needs remain. We also work with agencies to make sure that the donations we collect are specifically items that they need or that clients request.”
“To the many individuals and groups that made the 2015 Giving Tree Campaign such a huge success, thank you for your generosity,” said Chris Colombo, dean for student life. “The Division of Student Life is proud of the wonderful work done by our colleagues in the PKG Center, and the role they played in spreading so much holiday cheer this year.”
In addition to the many gifts donated, Bouchard said the project yielded some unexpected surprises for the PKG Center staff. “We have a better sense of what’s cool among kids,” she said, observing that Star Wars and Baby Alive dolls were hot this year in addition to the perpetually popular LEGO and sporting goods. On a personal level, Bouchard rediscovered Polly Pocket and Puppy Surprise, two favorite toys from her childhood that are making a comeback this year. “I hope the Giving Tree donations make the recipients smile as much as I did managing the program.”