BLOOMINGTON — Kids from ages 1 to 92 have had their holiday wish lists fulfilled for 25 years by State Farm employees.
Since 1992, the company’s Giving Tree program has collected and distributed gifts to Bloomington-Normal families and elderly residents each Christmas season.
“We work with various local, nonprofit agencies to collect gift wishes for the program,” said Ashley Tully, philanthropy analyst and coordinator of the Giving Tree program. "For some families, these are the only gifts they will be receiving."
The gift requests — usually toiletries, toys, books, games, coats and blankets — are printed on paper ornaments and hung on Christmas trees throughout State Farm buildings starting in November.
"Some teens asked for money to help their parents repay bills. They are very selfless in their requests," said Tully.
Tully said some State Farm agents also place Giving Trees in their offices for collection. Employees can pluck an ornament or two from the tree, purchase the item and drop it off at work.
On Friday, hundreds of gifts wrapped in bright bags lined a hallway of the State Farm corporate office in Bloomington. Volunteers sorted the gifts and packed them into boxes to be delivered to the local participating agencies.
“Not much has changed in 25 years,” said Tully. “We found something that works and it’s really special for the employees. They ask about it every year.”
Last year, State Farm collected 1,700 gifts for local recipients. This year, employees grabbed enough ornaments to purchase 1,800 gifts.
For any unfilled requests, State Farm provides grants to the nonprofit agencies to buy items for recipients.
For the first time, the program expanded out of Bloomington-Normal this year; the State Farm hubs in Dallas, Texas; and Phoenix, Ariz., also started up the holiday tradition.
“It's a great way for the company to give back to the community. I hope the recipients know people care about them and we want them to have a special holiday season, too,” said Tully.
Michelle Fryer, enterprise philanthropy analyst, packed boxes full of gifts on Friday before they were delivered to agencies.
“I’ve always been passionate about giving back and this is a great program that helps people in need in our community. While I still like to donate money to charities, it’s more personal to be able to take a specific wish off the tree and fulfill it,” said Fryer.
While sorting a pile of wrapped packages Friday, philanthropy analyst Sherry Bowne said the program “adds a personal touch” to the spirit of giving during the holidays.
“I saw a tag that said a 2-year-old wants a Mickey Mouse book. It makes it more real and heartfelt to see what a child is hoping to receive,” said Bowne. “A lot of families don’t have extra money to give fun toys to their kids for Christmas, so this helps. It’s a great thing.”