Through Pilgrim Manor’s Giving Tree, residents are helping UCOM serve their neighbors.

As far back as anyone can remember, UCC-related Pilgrim Manor — a United Church Homes older adult community in Grand Rapids, Mich. — has run a special giving tree project each December. But choosing nearby United Church Outreach Ministry (UCOM) as the beneficiary has given the project special meaning to both partners.

“The partnership with Pilgrim Manor and UCOM goes back to UCOM’s founding in 1985,” says the Rev. Bruce Roller, UCOM’s executive director. “This is the first year that Pilgrim Manor’s traditional Giving Tree has been the source of donations for UCOM’s neighbors. The project is especially helpful to UCOM since in this season, we try to give extra things that our neighbors need — winter outerwear, personal hygiene items, and so forth.”

For the residents of Pilgrim Manor, the annual Giving Tree is a great way to help out others and give back to their community.

“The residents (and their families) really do love to give back, so it is a great way to support a local charitable organization,” says Alexandra Wilson, Pilgrim Manor’s director of annual giving and special events. “The residents will cut out cute paper ornaments and write a needed item on them. They love decorating the ornaments that will go on the tree.”

Both Pilgrim Manor and UCOM are part of the UCC’s Council for Health and Human Service Ministries. While Pilgrim Manor provides radical hospitality to older adults in the Grand Rapids metro area, UCOM does the same to city residents in need. It provides food, clothing, and a variety of educational opportunities to area residents to help them meet basic needs, improve quality of life, and promote self-sufficiency.

The Giving Tree works like Project Angel Tree. UCOM sent Pilgrim Manor a list of needed items, which made their way onto the ornaments that adorn the tree. Pilgrim Manor’s staff and residents take the ornaments in order to fulfill those needs. The gifts — which are due by Christmas Eve —are placed under the Giving Tree at Pilgrim Manor. UCOM then will distribute the items based on need.

“The joy of this project has many different layers,” says Roller. “There are the spiritual implications, of course, of empathic giving and gracious receiving. Beyond that, UCOM feels that we are helping Pilgrim Manor to make opportunities for their residents and staff to be productive in ways that help the community.”

That Christmas joy also reaches the neighbors served by UCOM.

“Our neighbors are always so thrilled with the extra attention and caring that they receive from the folk at Pilgrim Manor,” Roller adds. “The neighbors also receive much-needed items in this special season. UCOM staff and volunteers have the joy of being the conduit between our friends at Pilgrim Manor and our friends in this very under-served part of the city.”