Our community coordinator in Charlotte, North Carolina is the amazing Katie Sloan. She organizes all of our activities there and ensures that truly needy families in her community are able to receive a tree for Christmas. Kate is the Outreach Minister for the Philadelphia Presbyterian Church in Mint Hill, NC, and she also runs her own non-profit, Dewey’s Ladder, founded in memory of her late husband Milton, helping families affected by cancer.
Santas: You started your own chapter of the Santas from scratch a few years ago. How did you hear about us?
Katie: I first heard about Santas through Facebook. Your wife AnneMarie and I are high school classmates; we had reconnected through Facebook and I saw a post about the great things they were doing –giving Christmas trees away to deserving families in need. I reached out to AnneMarie and asked how I could get involved in Charlotte, she connected us and within 6 weeks we were giving away 75 trees to deserving families in the Charlotte area!
Santas: Tell us about your first year of giving away trees. What was it like to organize your event?
Katie: The first year…the best way I can describe it is “God was in all the little details”! The truth is I didn’t think we would be giving trees away that year. When I reached out to Santas I thought I would be gleaning information so that we could get organized for the following year. However, you said “if you think you can do it, we can do it this year”, and sure enough the members of Sugaw Creek church stepped up to the plate, girl scout troops created handmade ornaments, The Family Enrichment Movement jumped in with both feet and it was incredible. Who would have imagined that we would have been giving 75 trees away 6 weeks later? AWESOME!!
The weather on our 1st giveaway day was HORRIBLE and completely uncharacteristic for the Carolinas. We had freezing rain, the temperatures were in the 20s but it didn’t stop anyone from coming to pick up their trees or darken the light of hope and happiness that was present. We pitched some tents, lit a fire in the firepit, poured cocoa, and the weather didn’t faze us.
Santas: Did you have any idea about the impact it would have on the recipients?
Katie: I cannot begin to tell you what an incredible blessing it is to see the faces of the families who come to pick up a fresh Christmas tree and the tell you things like “we’ve never had a fresh tree before,” “you cannot image what this means to us,” “we didn’t think we were going to have a tree this year” “we’ve been through so much this year, thank you for thinking of us”.
We take so much for granted. A Christmas tree is a symbol of the season, but it also the place where family gathers and builds memories and finds hope.
Over the past few years our volunteers start calling and emailing because they can’t wait for the giveaway event. They start making ornaments in the summer and recruit their family to help on giveaway day. I think we receive as much if not more than the recipients.
Santas: Tell us about some of the organizations and families you’ll be helping this year in Charlotte.
Katie: We have some amazing organizations that we partner with to match families. One of our largest partnerships is with HopeMatch. HopeMatch is a local non-profit charity serving those who are unseen and underserved in the Greater Charlotte, North Carolina, area. Everything HopeMatch does is personalized and geared toward what the families need and what will make a lasting difference in their lives. They most often work with families who do not qualify for government assistance, but are trying the best they can to make life work. HopeMatch is amazing. They build lasting relationships with their families.
One of the new organizations we are working with this year is Claire’s Army. They strive to act as God’s hands and feet by providing support for families fighting childhood cancer. Through an established network of resources they support the families’ daily responsibilities, allowing them to put their time and focus on their child. For the past few years Claire’s Army has been assisting families with Christmas gifts but they had not been able to figure out how to help with providing them with a tree. What better match than Santas? We are excited add Claire’s Army to our partners list!
Santas: What are some of your own favorite holiday memories?
Katie: Gathering around the tree on Christmas morning, drinking fresh squeezed orange juice, wearing new pajamas, and tearing open the traditional gift of a book from my dad is my favorite Christmas morning memory. The smell of the tree, oranges, footie pj’s, and the crisp pages of a new book….that’s Christmas to me!
The best Christmas memory of all is the real reason I reached out to Santas. I have been one of those families who didn’t know if they would have a tree. I had just moved to NC, I was working to just barely pay the bills, money was tight, I was struggling, I was homesick…I was REALLY homesick. I came home from work one day to find a fresh tree, ornaments, lights and a tree stand on my patio. To this day I do not know who left the tree for me but I do know it completely turned my holiday season around. I sat on my patio and cried tears of gratitude, joy and thankfulness.
So when I saw the posts on Annemarie’s Facebook page about Santas, I knew this was my opportunity to pay it forward. I just had to be a part. I had to be a Santa!
Santas: Thanks Katie! Appreciate all that you do for the Santas and your community.