By Jenna-Lee Neff
For more than 40 years, Helen Anderson has made it her mission to deliver gifts for the children at Saint Peter Indian Mission School at Christmas. Now she is bringing together the spirit of giving with the excitement of Christmas trees to take the cause to a new level.
For Anderson, the call to generosity began in 1979, when she came into work one day and found a woman crying in the reception area.
“She was crying because she had been out all day looking for broken or discontinued toys from storekeepers who slammed doors in her face,” Anderson shares, describing the conversation with the nun from Saint Peter Indian Mission School.
In that first year, Anderson helped provide Christmas for 13 children at the school. The following year, she started shopping for gifts in January and provided for children at Saint Peter Indian Mission School and Saint John’s Indian Mission School. Anderson’s dedication to the cause continued, and even though Saint John’s closed many years ago, she continued her work with Saint Peter.
Now, Anderson’s contributions help bring gifts to more than 300 children every holiday season, but at 84-years-old, Anderson admits that it’s getting harder to collect the large number of gifts and get them to the mission each year.
“Right now, I have five huge construction bags in my garage that have to be brought to the mission,” she says. “The nuns will grab them because I don’t drive anymore. So, I’ve had to change a few things since then.”
Over the years, Anderson has also decorated and developed an extensive collection of Christmas trees. The trees were originally used to help get her in the Christmas spirit early to give her the inspiration she needed to keep putting hard work into collecting mission gifts. Once they were on display each year, Anderson says people would stop just to see the trees. She recalls fondly how excited children were to see them up early, realizing that Santa would come their way soon.
She shares that after retiring it became harder to keep up with providing gifts for the school. But through hard work and donations, she was able to keep the tradition alive. Then in 2019, Anderson put her trees up and people started stopping to ask if they were available for purchase.
Anderson says she thought that was great, and the incoming funds from the sales of the trees helps her continue to provide toys for children at the school. Now, she decorates more trees and invites people to come see them on display, hoping to send someone home with an exciting piece of Christmas cheer while in turn being able to give something to a child in need as a result.
“People who come here just adore it because it’s like a Christmas house,” says Anderson. “I have elves and Santas all over the place. And if the kids come in and they want something, I give it to them. They take the toys right off the trees.”
Some of the trees Anderson has in her current collection are a Santa-themed tree and a zebra-themed tree. When someone purchases a tree, they not only get what is on it, but also any accessories that are with it that might make it a standout piece.
For more information, or to arrange a time to see the trees Anderson has available for purchase this year, call 602-330-5793.
Jenna-Lee Neff is a freelance journalist, digital audience analyst, and nonprofit public relations professional. Learn more about her work at jennaleeneff.com.