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The Holiday Helper Tree started its 25th anniversary on Nov. 1. To participate, students can grab a tag off the tree located in the Russell Union.

The Holiday Helper Tree kicked off its 25th anniversary of helping people in the community receive a gift during the holiday season in the Russell Union Commons Nov. 1

The Holiday Helper Tree is an annual event hosted by the Office of Leadership and Community Engagement to help students, faculty and staff connect with the local community during the holidays, Jordan Wilburn, community engagement coordinator, said.

Wilburn recalled that almost all 800 tags on the tree were filled last year, and she expects the amount to be around the same number this year. The tags represent people in the community who are in need of a gift.

There are 17 local non-profit organizations participating in the event, including Westwood Nursing Center, Children’s Medical Services and Statesboro Head Start.

“We ask them to send us names of individuals who might need some kind of extra encouragement during the holiday season and what kind of gift they might need or want,” Wilburn said.

To celebrate the silver anniversary, the tree has golden tags that have specific volunteering activities students can participate in any time of the year, Wilburn said.

“I think it’s important because it teaches our students not only what they need for their degrees here at Georgia Southern,” Eileen Smith, creator and co-founder of the Holiday Helper Tree, said. “But it teaches them life lessons about giving and helping others, and gives them a hands-on means to participate in those situations.”

When the program was created in the fall of 1994, there were not a lot of programs that catered to the needy during the holiday season, Smith said.

“We were kind of pacesetters with that,” Smith said.

“We want to hear that this is passed on from generation to generation and that it has become a true Georgia Southern tradition,” Smith told everyone at the kickoff.

At the kickoff, the tree was lit and 15 children from Statesboro Head Start sang and danced to “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and a version of “Jingle Bell Rock.”

Tags are available from Nov. 1 to Nov. 16 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the Russell Union stage.

Noelle Walker, The George-Anne contributor

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