Paws mean gifts at Frenship Middle School

The Frenship Middle School Tiger Tree provided gifts for 75 students and their siblings this year.
The Tiger Tree, based on the idea of the Angel Trees that several organizations host each year, was first put up five years ago.
Aron Strickland, assistant principal at FMS, said secretary Linda Whitson came up with the idea, and the two have organized the project each year since.
““More people now have a hand in making it successful,”” Strickland said, noting that even the PTA works to make sure all students get a Christmas gift.
Whitson said she was inspired after hearing about a student who was upset during the Christmas season because he knew he would get nothing.
““It was just a sad time of year for him, and it just broke my heart,”” Whitson said.
Putting up the Tiger tree is a complicated process. Strickland and Whitson rely on recommendations for the tree from students, parents and teachers from observations of need. But the school also sends out forms to parents who can make a request, and all parents can fill out a wishlist.
Strickland said they encourage parents to put some clothing items and sizes on the list, as well as a few fun items. They also encourage parents to give information for younger and older siblings.
“”The last thing that we want is one kid out of a family of five siblings who gets something,”” Strickland said.
For each child whose name is on the list, officials issue them an anonymous number, and then put two tags for each number on the tree. Each tag bears clothing items and one of the fun items on it, so that students won’t get two of the same toy.
“”Each year as we’ve identified more kids, we’ve always wondered if there would be paws left on the tree,”” Strickland said.
But he added, ““There’s not a chance that there will ever be a Tiger paw left up there.”
”Parents, teachers and even a few students come in after Thanksgiving and begin plucking paws from the tree. Strickland said some parents and teachers come in and say they want the last few paws when there are only a few left, and he said some parents just come in and anonymously donate so the office staff can pick up items.
Those anonymous donations allowed school officials to purchase an iPod for every child who requested one, he said.
“”We kind of anticipated we would have fewer students to help,”” Strickland said, because the number of students in the school decreased this year.
But the pattern of growing demand each year repeated.
““This is the biggest year we’ve had,”” Whitson said.
Last year, there were 60 children with paws on the tree, but this year, the number rose to 75, even as the total number of students at FMS went from about 900 last year to about 565 this year because of the opening of Heritage Middle School.
Strickland said teachers are doing a good job of knowing their students and that there might be a need, but he said the ongoing economic situation has contributed to the rise in demand.
The Tiger Tree, Strickland said, is the best thing school officials do all year.
““Without a doubt, the Tiger tree is, to me, the neatest thing we do all year,”” he said.
The tree also has an impact on students who do not receive gifts. Strickland said it not only makes those in need aware that people want to help them, it also allows students to see that some of their classmates are in need of help. Without those students stepping up and helping to alert school officials of students who could need the help, the school would not identify as many students in need, he said.
“”We have had a student tell her parent, and the parent told me, ‘Whatever you were going to get me for Christmas, give it to someone else,’”” Strickland said.
Whitson said one mother stopped by to pick up presents for her children last Wednesday who commented that her children had never had such a wonderful Christmas before.
“She said this would make this the best Christmas they ever had,” Whitson said.

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