Formed in 2018, the Gifting Tree Foundation is rooted in fulfilling unmet needs in the community.
In just about one year, the volunteer-based, nonprofit organization has given almost $20,000 to local teachers, schools, families and community service groups for school supplies, diabetic supplies, cold-weather relief and veterinarian services.
The initial money to fund the Gifting Tree came from the foundation's board members under the leadership of Don Cheeks, the board's chairman. Grants also provide funding.
The founding members represent local small business owners, corporate executives and professionals in a variety of fields.
“Just about every one of our board members has been on different boards together, and we always wanted to come up with some way that we could give 100% back to our community,” Cheeks said. “There's not many organizations that do that. The Gifting Tree has no paid employees, no bricks and mortar. Everything is volunteer, and every dime that we raise goes back to our community. We've had probably five grants issued this year and are looking for more."
Cheeks said passion powers the Gifting Tree.
“Every one of our board members has a passion for helping others and helping our community and making our community better," he said. "That passion to give back – that's what we're all about.”
In November, the Gifting Tree gave $1,000 to Leavelle McCampbell Middle School in Graniteville to help fund it's spring production of “Beauty and The Beast Jr.: The Musical.”
Charla Coffin, who teaches sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade chorus at Leavelle McCampbell Middle School, said the Gifting Tree's donation allows her and her students to focus on rehearsals for the upcoming production instead of fundraising. She added that the gift expands the school's curriculum, providing more educational opportunities, especially in the arts.
“Every chorus student will participate in some way,” Coffin said. “Our school doesn't have a drama program. This allows those students who are really, really interested in the dramatic arts to be able to have that opportunity.”
The production will be at 6:30 p.m. March 13, 2020, and at 2:30 p.m. March 14, 2020, at the school. Each show will feature a different cast to allow more students to participate.
Principal Dr. Tiffany Hall said community partners make productions like “Beauty and the Beast” possible.
“I think sometimes people forget that because we have such a beautiful building that we're a 70% free and reduced lunch school,” she said. “So we don't always have the resources like some schools that are highly, locally funded. When community partners come in and provide these resources for our students, we get to give them those same opportunities.
“We're grateful to the Gifting Tree because they keep everything local. Again, at Leavelle, we couldn't do what we're doing this year if we didn't have our community partners. We're thankful to them.”
A quick history of the other people and organizations the Gifting Tree Foundation has helped this year is as follows:
• $3,600 in supplies for teachers to Greendale Elementary School in New Ellenton.
• $1,000 to a family of four who suffered a house fire that was a total loss.
• $5,000 to Area Churches Together Serving, or ACTS, for cold-weather relief.
• $1,000 in clothing and basic needs to a family of six who moved to the area with nothing but what they could bring in a car from out of state.
• $5,000 to the Community Medical Center to buy diabetic supplies.
• $2,500 to the Friends of the Animal Shelter, or FOTAS, for spay, neuter and veterinarian services.
The Gifting Tree's second Aiken Oyster Roast is planned for March 7, 2020, at the Aiken Fairgrounds at 561 May Royal Drive.