The Sharing Tree at Washington Square has been a part of the mall’s holiday tradition for so long that few remember when it started.
“It is such a wonderful thing,” said Mary Lou Lidgren Scheidt, who was chair for the first 20 years of the Portland chapter of Clipped Wings, an organization of retired United Airlines flight attendants, when it started the tree back in 1985.
“Prior to 1985, different groups like garden clubs and boys and girls clubs and our group were solicited to decorate trees for a competition at the mall,” Scheidt said. “Mall management had learned of a sharing tree at a different mall and wanted to start one at Washington Square.
“They asked us to coordinate it and would make a payment to our philanthropy for doing it. It became a major fundraiser for us. Nationally, Clipped Wings’ philanthropy is people with developmental disabilities.”
The sharing tree this year benefits the SCOTTY Foundation (Sponsoring Children of Today, Tomorrow and Yesterday) that benefits foster children; Janus Youth Programs, which provides community-based services for families; Clackamas County SS/DD, which helps people returning to the community from institutional settings; the ARC of Multnomah-Clackamas, which helps people with intellectual or developmental disabilities; and Imagine Possibilities, that offers daytime services for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Other groups include Lifeworks/Northwest, a mental health, addiction and social-services agency; Community Action-Healthy Families of Washington County, which provides parenting information and resources for expectant and new parents; Young Parents Dreamers and Achievers, which helps young parents (ages 13-19) to be successful and self-sufficient; Albertina Kerr Centers, which creates healing for children with emotional or mental challenges and to support self-determination for people with developmental disabilities; and Salvation Army, that provides clothing and toys for families in need.
“Some of the requests are so simple, like ‘I just want a sleeping bag,’” said Lance, “and we are getting so old we don’t know what the electronic requests are. We have gotten a bicycle, baby cribs and even a car. Sometimes people just hand us money, and we get to go shopping for items on the tags.”
A homeless 17-year-old looking for a job asked for “nice cologne so he looks and smells his best;” an 18-year-old who wrote that he sleeps outside would like a small tent to help him stay dry; and an 18-year-old male trying to gain work experience asked for a “fitted, button-up shirt (size small) for work.”
Some other requests were for a winter coat, movie tickets and a grocery gift card, and one puzzling request from a 6-year-old boy just asked for “horses.”
“In January, we start to get thank-you notes,” Lance said. “We get about 3,000 gifts each year, which fills 80 to 90 percent of the requests. It’s sad to see those leftover tags at the end.”
The sharing tree is open through Dec. 20.