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Giving Trees Take Root

At some shopping outlets, residents can place gifts under the trees of others.

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Tags on the Community Holiday Coalition’s Gift Tree in Nordstrom request items needed by the coalition’s holiday store.

As they pick up gifts to stack under their own trees, Loudoun residents have a chance to leave presents for the needy under trees at their local shopping outlets. Both the Salvation Army and the county’s Community Holiday Coalition have placed trees decorated with holiday wishes in local malls and stores.

The Salvation Army’s Angel Trees will remain standing only until this Saturday, Dec. 15. They can be found at the Dulles Town Center Mall in the Sterling, Leesburg Wal-Marts and at the Leesburg Corner outlet mall. Hanging on the trees are tags, each one marked with the clothing sizes of a child in need. Many also bear gift requests.

Judy Brittle, of the Salvation Army’s Loudoun office, said the county’s chapter usually serves about 400 families through the program, many of which have more than one child. Some common gift requests include toy trucks and cars, small televisions, compact discs, compact-disc players, handheld video-game systems and even bicycles, said Brittle.

The Angel Trees bring gifts to children through middle-school age. They also bring clothing to senior citizens in need.

In the Dulles Town Center Nordstrom, as well as the Kohl’s and Stein Mart in Leesburg, the Loudoun Community Holiday Coalition has placed its own Gift Trees, which are decorated with requests for the coalition’s stores. Karen Velez, who manages the coalition, said the Leesburg trees would likely come down this weekend, but the tree in Dulles will be standing until Christmas Eve. She said the trees supplement the coalition’s gift drives, which have been running since Dec. 6.

"MINE ARE MORE like a need list, of what I need in the store," said Velez. "We’ve approved 1,800 families this year, which is a little scary." She said her program, as well as others like it, had expanded dramatically in recent years, as the county’s population grew and housing prices rose.

"We need clothes, especially," she said, noting that the coalition had set a goal of one outfit for each child. She said gifts for teens and preteens are also common requests on the trees, as they are harder for the organization to come upon. Because the coalition works with Toys for Tots, she said, finding toys is less problematic. Velez said her organization coordinates with the Salvation Army, so that services are not duplicated.

The Community Holiday Coalition provides gifts for children up to the age of 18, as well as senior citizens and adults with disabilities. Sharing the Gift Trees is the county’s Abused Women’s Shelter. While the Salvation Army’s trees are manned by volunteers, the stores themselves volunteered to look after donations left for the Community Holiday Coalition.

"I think it’s a good way to enforce in my child that not everybody gets what he gets," said Ashburn resident Carie Baker, as she dropped off a bag of gifts at the Dulles Town Center Angel Tree. She said she chooses a request from a child her son’s age each year and he helps pick out the gifts. "It gives him a sense of charity and what it is to be a decent person," said Baker. The 5-year-old boy she had chosen as this year’s recipient had asked for toy cars, she said. "My son is 6, and that’s all he does, is cars, so it worked out great."

TATIANA GOMEZ of Herndon said she, too, gives to the Angel Tree each year. "We always thought kids need things and we were fortunate. And I want to make it a tradition for my kids," she said, adding that this was the first year that the 3-year-old son she had in tow understood the concept. She said she also chose tags for children around the age of her own and that her son, Jonathan, had helped to select the tag and the gifts for a 3-year-old boy. Her family also bought gifts for a 2-year-old girl.

The Community Holiday Coalition is also taking donations in Suite 160 of the Dulles Trade Center I this Friday, Dec. 14, from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m.