In Shel Silverstein’s book The Giving Tree, the tree gives everything it has to the boy it loves until the only thing left is the stump. Business owners in Wheeling’s Centre Market also hope to give away all they can — until there is nothing left — with their very first Centre Market Giving Tree.
The idea is to decorate the tree with donated clothing items and goods, and they hope the community will join them in their first attempt at what could become a new Centre Market holiday tradition.
The need for a new type of tree in Centre Market began when business owners realized there would be no Talking Christmas Tree this year outside of Coleman’s Fish Market.
The Talking Tree is a Wheeling tradition that originated in the L.S. Good Co.’s department store back when Wheeling was a booming retail destination. Employees of the department store who were cloaked inside the tree spoke to passersby, even calling out to children by name to ask them what they wanted Santa to bring them for Christmas.
In 2013, the tree was brought back to life and placed in the Centre Market location where it has been displayed every holiday season. This year, Jodi Carder — manager of Coleman’s Fish, and who also happens to be the most recent voice of “Alice” the Talking Tree — explained that “the Talking Tree is taking a year off to be refurbished and will eventually be back.”
But the absence of “Alice” brought a small dilemma for Centre Market business owners about what to do this year for a tree. The business owners meet monthly and have an ongoing discussion group on Facebook where the topic of the tree was brought to their attention.
Carrie Eller, owner of the popular Under the Elder Tree Apothecary and Healing Arts Centre, explained that the group discussion page is for “brainstorming with the Centre Market team. We discuss ways for marketing to bring people down to the area. We plan for Ladies’ Nights on there and anything else we can to get foot traffic. Anything people might love and respond to.”
Valerie Grimes Piko, small business coordinator for RED (Regional Economic Development Partnership) in Wheeling, was the first one to suggest to the group that they needed to involve the community somehow and make the tree more than just another holiday decoration.
V.C. Wares owner Amy Cordy did her research on a Giving Tree in New York City and pitched the idea on the discussion page.
“What I found was really inspiring — the meaning behind the original community tree in New York City, which was to provide hope for people who weren’t having a Christmas or who didn’t have a home.”
She wanted her fellow business owners to remember that there are those less fortunate.
“A community Christmas tree does not aim to educate or promote the business of any town,” Amy posted on the discussion page. “It is simply to have people feel together that glow of kindliness and goodwill, which we call the Christmas spirit.”
The idea took off from there. One business owner of the Centre Market community donated money anonymously for a tree from Nicky’s Garden Center. Mitchell Haddad of the Later Alligator joined Amy to retrieve the tree from Nicky’s.
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Mitchell gives Amy full credit for spearheading the idea and says, “She does a great job keeping everyone in the Market communicating. There was some back and forth on when the tree was coming and who was delivering it, and I just offered to help pick it up.”
After Jodi of Coleman’s Fish Market donated lights, about seven shopowners and family members got together late last month to decorate the tree. The first items on the tree were hats, gloves, socks and scarves.
Since then, Carrie Eller has noticed other items have been added. “There are a lot more items now, and I noticed there are also teddy bears, which I was pretty impressed with. And some people have been putting canned goods under it as well, which wasn’t the intention but is wonderful to see.”
And the idea is for the Wheeling community to keep the tree giving all through December. Rebecca Stahl of REStyle Consignment, a consignment shop in Centre Market, donated several items for the tree and encourages anyone with any items for donation to drop them off at her shop.
Rebecca brought attention to Wheeling’s Giving Tree on her Instagram account, and as a result, the Centre Market tree has actually inspired a shop in Montana to do the same. Woods and Water Apparel & Consignment in Whitefish, Montana, saw Rebecca’s Instagram post about the tree in Wheeling and decided to do the same for their community, thanking REStyle and Wheeling publicly for the idea.
This is the season for giving to those less fortunate in Wheeling. Last winter, clothing was donated by residential clients of Crittenton Services and hung on the “Blessing Fence” — a fence close to Ohio Valley Medical Center in Center Wheeling on 20th and Eoff streets. Coats and other warm clothing items were hung on the fence and were quickly replaced when they were taken.
It is estimated there are around 120 homeless people living on the streets in Wheeling, and statewide that number is close to 1,300.
There is a great need for helping others, and the Giving Tree is just one small step toward looking out for those in need in the city.
“As long as we have folks sleeping out and pregnant women living in tents, then a tree with some mittens and hats and scarves is just one small easy thing we can do to improve some lives,” says Haddad. “There’s more nuance to all real problems, but if you start with making sure everyone has healthy food and a clean, warm place to live, we can figure the rest out.”
Jodi Carder received donations from her “kind-hearted” employees and already has replenishment bags ready to go after realizing the items are going fast. “People are taking advantage of the tree. There is always some sort of outreach program happening in the area. We decided to make ours a little festive this year with the tree and a community feel.” Jodi feels that cities everywhere could use a Giving Tree. “Part of the heart of Wheeling, I think, is that people help their neighbors and share what they have.”
Centre Market’s Giving Tree will be up through the end of the year.
“Bring what you want and take what you need,” Carrie Eller says. “It’s fully open and lit up at all times, even if someone wants to come in at 2 a.m. That’s what it is there for.”
•Kelly Strautmann lives out in the country of Cameron, West Virginia, and proofreads in the city of Wheeling. She has a supportive and talented husband and two ridiculous daughters who keep her busy and full of love.