Quietly sharing the joy each year
- Published: December 12, 2022
Every December at the Yellow Springs Community Library, a quiet exchange takes place.
You’ve seen it there: a small Christmas tree, decorated with white tags, right inside the library’s entrance. The tags contain items wished for by local families who need a little help around the holidays. If you’re a member of one of those families, your name won’t appear on the tags. And if you’re one of the folks who take a tag or two, buy the items listed there and return them to the library, your name will also be unwritten and unspoken.
This Yellow Springs tradition has been ongoing for three decades, and continues this year: All the requests for this year’s Share the Joy tree have been made, and tags with gift requests are waiting to be filled at the library. The deadline for filling the requests is Friday, Dec. 16, by the library’s closing time at 6 p.m.
The Share the Joy project was born out of the efforts of the late Mary Ann Bebko along with Juanita Richardson, Olga Harris and Cynthia Christian. Bebko and Richardson instituted a program in the late 1980s that provided baskets of food to villagers in need around the holidays — a program that continued at St. Paul Catholic Church for many years. When delivering the baskets, Bebko and Richardson noted that some families were in need of other items as well, and asked Harris and Christian to help provide some of the other items.
As Harris noted in a written history of Share the Joy published in the YS Library Association’s Ex Libris newsletter in 2014: “One day I was at K-Mart and saw their tree with tags asking for different items. It seemed like a good idea that could be copied and adapted to our needs in the village. … I worked at the library at the time and saw it as the ideal place for people to pick up the tags and for people to drop off the presents because almost everyone in town uses the library — or at least knows where it is.”
Bebko ran Share the Joy for many years; after her death in 2006, Richardson spearheaded the program until she passed the baton to villager Kate Anderson several years later.
“I don’t know exactly how long it’s been since I took over — but it’s been a while!” Anderson told the News in an interview last week.
Anderson said the program is serving about 25 families this year, which she noted is a typical number. Each person in a family can ask for three things on forms located next to the Share the Joy tree, which is typically set up in late November.
With help from villager Susan Hyde and other volunteers, Anderson will take the information from the submitted forms and transcribe it into anonymous tags that hang on the tree and keep track of the requests. When gifts start rolling in, the project stores them at the Methodist Church, which is a partner in the project, until it’s time to make deliveries.
There are no specific rules about what families may ask for — whatever families request, Anderson said she and other volunteers “don’t judge.”
“Make a [request], we’ll put it on the tree,” she said.
The most commonly requested items are clothing and toys, Anderson said. Even larger and uncommon requests, like televisions and car repair, have been gifted over the years — a fact that Anderson said reminds her of the importance of the program for both those who receive the gifts and those who give them.
“I am, every year, surprised beyond belief at the generosity of people,” she said. “It all counts — I can’t begin to tell you the joy that a 10-year-old girl gets out of getting a pile of nail polish. That’s worth a million bucks.”
Anderson said Share the Joy endeavors to make sure that every family who makes requests receives at least some of the wished-for items, even if their tags aren’t taken by community members. Share the Joy will purchase any clothing items still on the tree first, then any toys.
“But the goal is to empty the tree,” she said.
Because all requesters and gift-givers are kept anonymous to the general public, Anderson herself delivers gifts to the families after they’re purchased. Over the years, she said, she’s built relationships with some of the families, occasionally reminding those who participate each year of the approaching deadline for putting in gift requests if she sees them around town.
“I’ve got regulars — and their dignity is extremely important to me,” she said.
Keeping the flame
Anderson described herself as “keeper of the flame” for the Share the Joy project since she’s been at the helm — and it’s a responsibility she said she’s not likely to forego soon.
“I’ll keep doing it until I drop, until I can’t, and then I’ll still keep doing it — I’ll boss other people around,” she said.
Anderson has been a mover and shaker in Yellow Springs since she moved to the village in 1988. Originally from New York, she moved to Centerville in the 1980s with a former partner, but said she “really did not like suburbia.” She stumbled upon Yellow Springs while “adventuring” in the area with her children, and when she and her then-partner divorced, she said the village felt like the right fit.
“I grew up in a town of less than 4,000 people, and this was just like where I grew up, so it was very attractive to me,” she said.
Once she moved to the village, she plunged into making connections in the community. Her first job in town was at the Antioch Publishing Company, where she said she made lifelong friends and enjoyed giving tours of the facility to local school children on field trips. With a background in graphic design, she later worked at the Yellow Springs News, both in advertising and providing technical oversight for the office’s computers. At the same time, she worked at Mr. Fub’s Party toy store and did freelance graphic design work.
“I was the quintessential townie, working three part-time jobs,” she said with a laugh.
But Anderson’s passion, she said, is in community service. She’s been involved with the nonprofit Beloved Community Project since its inception in 2017, and was instrumental in instituting one of its most visible community outreach efforts, monthly free community meals, hosted at First Presbyterian Church until the pandemic halted them.
“I’m always feeding people,” she said. “I always laugh and say I’m the Jewish mother of the world.”
The meals were open to anyone, no matter the need, and their regularity, Anderson said, meant that those who attended built relationships with one another, breaking bread across the boundaries sometimes established by socioeconomic divides.
“It became a little community, you know?” she said.
At the same time, when the Beloved Community Project gained 501(c)(3) status, Share the Joy was gathered under the arm of the nonprofit as one of its initiatives. When that happened, Share the Joy was able to begin accepting monetary donations to go toward requested gifts that hadn’t been taken from the tree, compounding its effects.
Anderson said she was long supported in her philanthropic efforts by her husband, the late Dan Carrigan, who died in 2021. Well-known around the village as an avid cyclist, Carrigan’s own community service, Anderson said, was often less recognized, but just as important, as her own. His dedication to the Safe Routes to School initiative and advocacy around cycling safety education and improving conditions for cyclists was something he pursued with fervor, and with which she was happy to help.
“I was Dan’s eternal assistant — I was the bikey wife,” she said. “Because it was his passion, and he supported me in mine.”
She added that bicycles were a leading requested gift on the Share the Joy tree for many years, remembering the joy the requests brought to her late husband.
“Someone would always take the bicycle tags and brand new shiny bikes would show up,” Anderson said. “Bicycles mean freedom to kids. And Dan was Mr. Bicycle — he always loved seeing kids get bikes.”
She said both she and Carrigan took a lot of joy from working with kids over the years, particularly with the “Wednesday boys” — her name for the afternoons in which they’d open their home to the children of family friends after school, helping them with homework and sharing an evening meal together.
“It was kind of an organized chaos,” she said, noting that the kids came to call them “Aunt Katie” and “Uncle Danny,” and that they remembered Carrigan fondly at his memorial service.
Anderson said it was her and Carrigan’s shared love of service that became the needle through which her long work with Share the Joy was threaded. The couple worked as runners for the St. Paul Catholic Church food basket program that started it all, and Juanita Richardson brought her in on the gift-giving project.
“Juanita said, ‘Can you help out with this Share the Joy thing? Because we’re all getting old,’” Anderson said. “I love Juanita — she’s a straight-shooter. So you don’t say ‘no’ to her.”
Though Anderson’s connections to service in the village had their roots at St. Paul, she said she doesn’t consider herself a religious person — but clarified that she is a “deeply faithed” person. That faith grounds itself, she said, in the people around her.
“For me, the personal piece of it is … I gotta take care of my brother, I gotta take care of my sister,” she said. “That’s part of my work on this earth while I’m walking it. Dan and I both walked that — we did the work together.”
The “Share the Joy” holiday tree at Yellow Springs Community Library provides gifts for community members who may need help at the holidays. Tags listing requested gifts hang from the tree, and community members choose a tag (or tags) to fill; the delivery of gifts back to the library ends Friday, Dec. 16, at 6 p.m. All requests are kept anonymous and confidential by the volunteers who process them.