Social Work Students Grow the Giving Tree Outreach

For more than 20 years, Loras social work students have united the campus and beyond to provide a happy Christmas to under-resourced children through the Giving Tree program. That tradition continues in 2020, but with a slightly different look and feel.

Instead of letting the pandemic derail the program, student coordinator Megan Schraeger (’21) decided to focus on what they can do instead of what they cannot.

“The plans I had before the pandemic have gone out the window, and I am now looking at how this organization can still assist Dubuque families this Christmas season,” Schraeger said. “From the uncertainty, I have learned the importance of flexibility as a leader.”

The most significant change this year is how the program is receiving donations. Traditionally, the Giving Tree team, made up of students in the Loras Social Work Council, hands out tags with items listed for individual children that supporters can purchase to be given to the children near Christmas. Due to the nature of COVID-19 and the need to limit exposure, all donations are monetary, and the Giving Tree team will purchase the items. 

Despite this different approach, the spirit of the program remains.

 “The idea was to find an activity to engage the whole Loras community in a common effort to do good in our surrounding community,” Nancy (Zachar) Fett (’90), L.M.S.W., associate professor of social work, said. “It is our most popular, demanding, and most satisfying work we do each year.”

The Loras community’s generosity is something that Fett has seen since the program began with many individuals taking part every year.

“There are some faculty and staff that have participated in this effort since the beginning. Some encourage each of their classes to adopt a child(ren) or a family. We have alumni and retired faculty and staff that reach back each fall and continue to participate. Many roommates share the responsibility of a child, while some Loras families take their own children to help purchase the gifts of children their age to teach them generosity,” she said.

Each year, the Social Work Council updates a manual they created to help the program run smoothly. With significant changes due to the pandemic, Schraeger and Fett have had to be flexible to keep things moving forward.

“Approaching this year, Professor Fett and I have had to get creative and think outside of the box to ensure that the Giving Tree is making some impact this Christmas season,” Schraeger commented.

Fett agreed. “This year, our guide isn’t as helpful due to COVID-19, and the context of what is occurring in the Dubuque community is in flux. We are creating new rules, new recipients, and new ways of collecting, such as the convenient Venmo for donations.”

Regardless of how they collect donations, Schraeger is still looking forward to the same goal at the end.

“What I enjoy the most about this program is knowing that families in Dubuque can experience the joy that comes Christmas morning when they are watching each other open up presents,” she said.

Giving Tree will be accepting donations through December 4. Anyone interested in participating should inquire by email at Giving.Tree@loras.edu.

About Loras College
Founded in 1839, Loras College leverages its historic roots as Iowa’s first college, the second oldest Catholic college west of the Mississippi River and one of the nation’s 10 diocesan colleges to deliver challenging, life-changing experiences as part of its residential, Catholic setting. In 2019, Loras was the second-highest ranked Catholic college in the state of Iowa according to College Consensus, the 16th Best Regional College in the Midwest by U.S. News & World Report and one of America’s Top 200 Most Loved Colleges/Universities by Forbes Magazine for the third consecutive year. Loras students ranked No. 2 in the world as part of the global Peeptrade Investment Challenge while a second group ranked No. 4. For the 10th consecutive year, Loras Media Studies student-led television station (LCTV) was named the TV Station of the Year by the Iowa College Media Association (ICMA).