Bloomington, Illinois,
14:39 PM

Giving Tree

Strangers' Kindness Leads to Priceless Gift

As the seasons change and the weather cools, Sharee Conely knows her favorite time of year is around the corner. Pictured: Sharee Conely and her youngest son Jakaleib.

“Christmas. Christmas is my favorite holiday,” said Conely. “It’s filled with hope.”

Conely, a social service daycare provider, knows what Christmas and the winter holiday season, means through the eyes of a child. By day she looks after children ranging in age from babies to Pre-K. By night, she raises three kids of her own.

“It keeps me busy,” smiled Conely rocking a baby in her arms, coaxing it to sleep. “I’ve worked in daycare since 2008. I love children. Their imagination, their innocence, their humor…and just like Christmas trees, they really light up this time of year.”

But Conely knows, the holidays aren’t always a happy time for children and families.

Tight budgets, hectic work schedules and bills to pay can make the season of giving anything but jolly.

“I found myself in a tough spot last year,” she explained. “I couldn’t afford to buy my children anything extra. I was working so hard, but could not get ahead financially to buy gifts.”

But hope found Conely during the holidays. It came in the form of an evergreen, from the hands of strangers she’d never met.Baby Jakaleib is all smiles! His mother Sharee says the holiday season is one of her favorite times of year.

“It’s called the Giving Tree,” Conely smiled. “It brought light into my family’s life.”

The Giving Tree is a State Farm holiday tradition. The program sprouted in the fall of 1992 – as a means to fulfill the gift wishes of families in need. Since its inception, the spirit of giving has blossomed and grown.

Each November, evergreen trees adorned with paper ornaments pop up at State Farm facilities. The ornaments contain wish lists from children, families or senior citizens who might otherwise receive no gifts during the holidays. State Farm employees pluck an ornament or two from the trees and go shopping.

Some ornaments contain practical requests like soap, shampoo and socks. Others ask for warmth and comfort – in the form of mittens, hats, blankets and stuffed animals. Either way, employees make sure the items they purchase are suited for the special families they’ve never met.

“Last year, my youngest son, JaKaleib received a teddy bear,” said Conely.    “But it wasn’t an ordinary bear. This one sang the ABC’s. JaKaleib loved it. He also received a play table and chair.”

In 2016, State Farm employees granted nearly 1,700 gift wishes for Bloomington, Illinois families. Many also volunteered to pack and prepare the presents for delivery.

“It’s like having the magic of Santa and the North Pole here in town,” said Conely. “This kindness has meant so much to me and my children. After experiencing the good will of others, now my 13 and 10-year-old are inspired to give back. I tell them, ‘You have the power to make a difference. We all do.’”

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Giving Tree. A program that started from an evergreen tree, paper ornaments and a choice: to listen and help. But Conely says it’s not about the packages one receives, nor who the gift giver is that matters…

“The beauty is knowing there are people out there who love and care about others – no matter who they are, or where they come from. That kind of gift lasts long after the holidays are over.”

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