School social workers in Manatee County have a dizzying array of responsibilities, but that did not stop them from orchestrating Christmas surprises for more than 400 students this week through the district’s annual Giving Tree gift giveaway.
On Monday, the school’s Professional Support Center on 63rd Avenue East was the hub for holiday happiness in the county. Representatives from most district schools came and picked up roughly 1,000 gifts, each personalized for a needy child in Manatee County schools.
Those who help make Christmas merrier for families they have never met are truly the kindest of angels. - Giving Tree coordinator and Manatee County School Social Worker Kami Lake
“Seeing all the gifts come into the PSC ... last week made me ridiculously happy,” social worker Kami Lake said. “Those who help make Christmas merrier for families they have never met are truly the kindest of angels.”
The effort began in October as Lake and a committee begin receiving referrals from the schools. Each referral contained the child’s name, three wishes and any specific needs they may have. Lake said this is her 20th year as a social worker in the county, and the effort has gotten larger each year.
410 students from 146 families received roughly 1,000 presents
Dyrren Barber teaches at Bartow Middle School in Polk County, but as a child Lake was his social worker. Each Christmas, he would be one of the children she made sure had presents on Christmas morning.
“I saved every piece of wrapping paper and every card she gave me,” Barber said. “She was an awesome person. The gifts were the minor part.”
Barber laughed as he remembered his first request for the Giving Tree as a second-grader.
“This is embarrassing, but one of my big gifts I asked for was for lotion and for a calendar to stay organized,” Barber said.
Lake said the simplicity of many of the gift requests touches her each year, and when she sees a particularly humble wish list, she pounces on it.
This is embarrassing, but one of my big gifts I asked for was for lotion and for a calendar to stay organized. - Former Giving Tree Recipient Dyrren Barber
Valerie Morrison, the lead social worker with Manatee schools, helped recruit members of the Waterlefe Golf and River Club’s book clubs to provide gifts for children. She described the Giving Tree as a “big coordinated effort.”
This year, several local businesses helped provide gifts to district children, including Oden Hardy Construction; Kirkland, Pratt, and Harrison Law firm; Wal-Mart; It Works!; Champs; Arsenault Dermatology; Cre8egy; Indelcato Chiropractic; Tint Worx; Queen Bee Reality; Newby Management, and the Desoto Crew.
“People are overwhelmed with the gifts. They are very grateful,” Morrison said. “I had one father couldn't believe all these gifts were coming, he was just saying, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.’”