Massachusetts Nonprofit Spotlight: Community Giving Tree

This feature is part of a recurring series on Massachusetts nonprofits, through which Boston Mamas Founder + Editor Christine Koh donates her digital real estate in order to shine a light on great work that is happening in this fine state to help those in need. If you work at or know of a fantastic Massachusetts nonprofit worthy of feature, fill out this form!

This month’s spotlight is on Community Giving Tree, a grassroots organization that serves as the bridge between those who have plenty and those that are in need. Community Giving Tree is staffed 100% by women working part-time and over 200 volunteers, with locations in Boxford and Middleton and community collections in Andover, Hamilton, and Newburyport. The responses below are written from the voice of Community Giving Tree staffer Kristy Heath.

What is the story behind Community Giving Tree?

Community Giving Tree began in 2002 when its founders, Leslie Levenson and Betty Obernesser recognized there were abundant resources to share with families living just a short distance from their community of Boxford, Massachusetts. (They got the idea when they saw a usable crib that was junked at the side of the road for trash pick up and thought of just how many could use such a valuable piece of equipment!) For seven years, Community Giving Tree volunteers collected and distributed gently used baby equipment and clothing from a donated garage. A Used Toy Fair was held annually to raise operating funds.

In 2009, Community Giving Tree transitioned from a grassroots project to a registered non-profit organization. The garage was torn down, and in June 2010 the organization moved into its 2,400 square foot building in Boxford. In 2013, the Toy Fair developed into Twice Loved Toy Sales, a thriving social enterprise for the organization.

What is the mission of Community Giving Tree?

What we do: Local families helping local families. We collect gently used children’s clothing, as well as essential items such as cribs and other necessities from families who have plenty and distribute them to families in need throughout Essex County and the Merrimack Valley area. This opportunity has also lead us to spread awareness about poverty and spread the importance of volunteerism and how together we can make a difference.

How we do this: By partnering with over 140 different community-based organizations serving families in need in our service area. Our Boxford Giving Center is the hub of our distribution, open to our partners to visit and receive items (free of charge) on their clients’ behalf.

The Community Giving Tree van on the move, picking up items for the distribution center

The Community Giving Tree van on the move, picking up items for the distribution center

Who does Community Giving Tree help?

We serve over 11,000 children annually. Most of the children we serve live in a single parent household; 46% are homeless, living in a group residential situation, in transitional housing, or are in foster care. The majority are under 3 years old.

According to Impact Essex County, 28,000 children in Essex county live below the federally defined poverty line of $24,000 for a family of 4. Our own research indicates another 6,000 live in the Merrimack Valley area, which means 34,000 children in need of help. In Lawrence alone, 39% of children live in poverty, which is more than double the state average of 15%.  Studies show that children raised in poverty are at higher risk of health and social problems, including poor performance in school.

What are Community Giving Tree’s core community activities?

We have a number of programs and opportunities for ways to help and they are listed below! Our fall Twice Loved Toy Sale is November 2-3 at the Topsfield Fairgrounds. We would love to see Boston Mamas community members there!

  1. Bundles of Kindness: A weeks’ worth of clothing       

  2. Show the Love for Babies: Diaper Distribution

  3. Garden of Giving: Evening of Fundraising with dinner and auctions

  4. Tools for Success: Backpack & School Supplies           

  5. Mother’s & Father’s Day: Toiletries Gift Program 

  6. Annual Appeal: November mailing

  7. Give the Gift of Warmth: Holiday Gift Items           

  8. Spring and Fall Twice Loved Toy Sale: Sustainable Social Enterprise

A local Brownie Troop collects a boatload of diapers for Community Giving Tree’s Show The Love For Babies program

A local Brownie Troop collects a boatload of diapers for Community Giving Tree’s Show The Love For Babies program

What is the proven impact of Community Giving Tree so far?

Our accomplishments: Thanks to a grant from the Cummings Foundation, in 2014 we were able to secure a storage facility, since adding the additional space we have seen tremendous growth.

  • 76% Increase in the number of children served, from 6,000 to over 11,000

  • Doubled our Tools for Success program providing over 2,000 backpacks filled with supplies in 2018

  •  400% Increase in the Give the Gift of Warmth holiday gift program, from 700 gifts to over 4,000

  •  Collected and distributed over 7,300 packages of diapers

Our hope is to expand, strengthen and grow to serve all 34,000 children living below the poverty line in our service area.

What is one of the most compelling examples of how Community Giving Tree has made a difference?

Michael, age 12, was taken into emergency custody and placed into foster care. His mother, struggling with substance abuse, had sold all of their belongings, including Michael’s clothes. When his social worker visited our facility, his only possessions were the clothes on his back. He was using a plastic shopping bag to carry his school books. Community Giving Tree provided, clothing (including a warm jacket and shoes) for Michael, as well as a new backpack filled with new school supplies. 

What are the top needs of Community Giving Tree?

We currently have a waitlist for cribs, car seats, and pack and plays, but to expand our mission we need funds and donations. We will be having our Fall Twice Loved Toy sale November 2-3 at the Topsfield Fairgrounds and all proceeds will go towards our mission of helping local families with kids. 

Thank you, Community Giving Tree, for all you are doing for children in Massachusetts. If you want to support Community Giving Tree, an easy way would be to share this feature. And another great way would be to bring goods to Topsfield Fairground November 2-3, or drop them a donation!