It’s never too early to get into the holiday spirit of giving, especially for STMA High School senior Maddy Vitzthum who started and runs the Giving Tree, where kids can be adopted by the community to receive toys.

“When I started it last year, I knew people were struggling because of COVID,” Maddy said. “I wanted to give, but I couldn’t give enough. And I knew other people would want to give, so I came up with this idea that if I adopt a family for Christmas, but like one at a time, and multiple families could come and pick [other] names and shop for the kids and see directly where their money is going.”

The idea of the Giving Tree is simple. It allows others to ‘adopt’ kids from newborn to 18 year-olds whose families might be struggling to get them all they want for Christmas.

First, Maddy sends out a spreadsheet through Facebook groups for those in need within 15 miles of St. Michael to sign up their kids to receive gifts. Once Maddy has the names and the child’s gender, gifts they might need and/or want, she places those names on laminated ornaments onto a lit Christmas tree at the end of her driveway for people to adopt.

All gifts that adoptees buy are dropped off to Maddy, who then makes sure they are wrapped and tagged and taken to the children before Christmas.

This year, the form for signing closed Nov. 10 with around 170 kids on the list. The Giving Tree will be put up Nov. 26 at the end of her family’s driveway located at 4764 Narrow Way in St. Michael with the names on it. Once the kids are ‘adopted,’ it is then up to the adopter to find the perfect gift for the child.

The deadline to get gifts to Maddy is Dec. 15, which is earlier than last year to allow Maddy more time to get the presents to where they need to go.

“Last year, our main struggle was getting the gifts to the families on time since we did have the deadline of Dec. 22,” Maddy said. “We were still delivering presents on Christmas Eve. But this year we hope to make the deadline earlier to coordinate with the families.”

In 2020, Maddy announced that the tree was out and the same day the 80-plus kids that were on the tree were adopted. People can adopt multiple kids, or businesses can adopt one family.

“Last year, we had a daycare take a whole family,” Maddy said. “The employees from there and the parents bought gifts to donate to them. That was pretty cool.”

Maddy does most of the organization for the Giving Tree, including accepting gifts, then wrapping and delivering them. Last year, she had a team of around 15 other student volunteers who helped deliver or donate food for community service hours.

Maddy’s mom, Beth Vitzthum, isvery proud of her daughter, who came up with the idea of the Giving Tree on her own in 2020 and executed it.

“It was pretty magical,” Beth said. “Super proud of her that this idea came and she went with it. A lot of people have great ideas, but it just stays there as an idea. Her ability to just drive it forward and bring it all the way to where she did is amazing.”

Along with the Giving Tree, Maddy also accepts food donations for the Hanover Area Food Shelf in bins on her front porch. She was able to take in 10 big tubs of donated food to the food shelf last year.

“Our goal is to reach as many people as we can and then donate as much as we can to the food shelf,” Maddy said. “Not just non-perishables, but paper towels, soap, conditioner as well.”

Through her Giving Tree and food donation last year, Maddy also had an area family reach out to her who was struggling due to working in the food service industry and being laid off during the pandemic. Maddy was able to organize through the community a $500 donation to the family to pay off their bills and have another community resident donate a full Christmas dinner.

Maddy does not know if she will do it again this year unless someone reaches out to her in need, but she does hope to give the option for those in the community to donate gift cards that can go out to a family or families in need.

She is not only a student, but an athlete and keeps two jobs. Between all of that, her mom was proud of her for continuing the Giving Tree again this year.

“She is making a difference in the community and she never ceases to amaze me,” Beth said. “[I hope people gain] a sense of community and that there are people who care... and the community understands this is a teenage girl doing it and that it catches on to other people and other communities doing the same thing.

Maddy is still looking for volunteers to help. People can also donate wrapping paper, gift tags and bins for the donated food to Maddy’s Giving Tree. She can be reached at maddy.vitzthum@gmail.comv

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