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Tree Change

A longstanding campaign, the Wishing Tree gives shoppers the opportunity to donate toys for marginalised families who would otherwise have nothing to give their kids on Christmas Day.

It’s late morning on a sunny Wednesday in early November. The sun shines with unMelburnian vigour; there’s a bit of extra sting in the air. Salvos are gathering at Barkly Square’s Kmart, in Brunswick (Vic.), to play Christmas carols, greet Santa and the Kmart staff, and help to launch the corporation’s local Wishing Tree campaign.

A longstanding campaign, the Wishing Tree gives shoppers the opportunity to donate toys for marginalised families who would otherwise have nothing to give their kids on Christmas Day.

Wishing tree KmartLocal Salvation Army officer Envoy Margaret Coombridge, ably backed by the event ‘roadie’, community support worker and local Doorways doyen Willow Blackwood, has gathered some musical reinforcements for the day.

‘Christmas for many people in Brunswick is quite challenging,’ explains Margaret.

‘People are looking for a sense of belonging at Christmas, because they are often isolated socially. There may be issues of homelessness, poor mental health, poverty, and addiction, but mostly they want to come and just be themselves; they want to be able to have a conversation without being judged, ignored or dismissed.

‘Here at Brunswick Salvos, it doesn’t matter how they come in…they are welcome. They come, they participate, and they leave happy.’

Santa brandished candy canes and offers the odd ‘Ho, ho, ho’ before the Kmart manager, Shawn MacKenzie-Ross, welcomes everyone, plugs the appeal and pledges the support of his staff and customers.

Offline he’s already discussed with Margaret the intention to provide additional resources in wrapping paper, sticky tape, etc. He hopes to organise some staff to volunteer at the corps by helping wrap and distribute some pressies for local children. This will allow staff to get a deeper understanding of the process that they begin through the in store Wishing Tree; and, also, just how hard life is for some members of their community.

Shawn’s inventory manager, Shannon Rule, is the store’s Wishing Tree champion. Shannon says ‘it’s a great feeling for us to be a collection point, so The Salvation Army can distribute some cheer. We’re into it.’

As are the faithful few gathered for the launch. And, yes, while it does feel a little early for Christmas tunes, the carollers are well received; and duly rewarded with cake.

The conveyors of ‘tidings of comfort and joy’ are typical of thousands of Christmas carollers, collectors, staff members and volunteers across Australia.

‘This kind of event always inspires me,’ says Major Colin Elkington, between tunes where he’s tooting away merrily on a saxophone. ‘It’s Christmas! And it’s the joy of making music as a team, and as a community.’

‘This time of year, it’s good to be out and about with carols,’ adds Captain David Davis, over the bell of his cornet. ‘The people want to engage with you; so, while it’s busy, I really do enjoy it.’

The Brunswick team has two full-time Doorways staff and a team of volunteers. While Willow acknowledges ‘it feels a bit early for Christmas, the fact is this is the calm before the storm’.

‘A lot of people on low incomes need assistance with paying bills and financial counselling, because they often face a choice. They can pay their bills, or they can feed their kids.’

Hence the annual Wishing Tree Appeal, and similar campaigns designed to help needs, stretch already torn budgets and spread some Christmas cheer.

O come, all ye faithful…