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Share Tree brings presents, and happy holidays for every student at Ellsworth Public School

“We’re really proud of our community. They’re just huge supporters of our school,” said Amy Labat, principal at Ellsworth.

Students at Ellsworth Public School open presents from the Share Tree on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022.
Students at Ellsworth Public School open presents from the Share Tree on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022.
Submitted photo
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ELLSWORTH — Christmas came early for students at Ellsworth Public School, as a smart Santa beat the blizzard with an early delivery of 179 gifts on Tuesday — and every student received a gift from the community’s Share Tree.

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“We’re really proud of our community. They’re just huge supporters of our school,” said Amy Labat, principal at Ellsworth.

The Share Tree is in its third year, and it is the brainchild of the Christmas-loving Vicki Steensma, whose daughter told her about a similar Share Tree at a school in Luverne.

That tree focused on children in the free and reduced lunch program — those in homes experiencing financial stress or hardships. In tiny Ellsworth, however, it would be hard to keep people from finding out whose names were on the tree, potentially embarrassing someone already in a tough spot.

Vicki talked to her husband Stan, and said: “Let’s do the whole school.”

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Students at Ellsworth Public School show the presents from the Share Tree on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022.
Students at Ellsworth Public School show the presents from the Share Tree on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022.
Submitted photo

They put up a Christmas tree at their business, Mickie’s Restaurant & Bar, with tags for each student at Ellsworth Public Schools, and invited people to take the tags, buy a present for the student at a minimum of $25 and bring it back, unwrapped.

“It just went viral, as far as putting it out on Facebook, and people coming into the bar thinking ‘oh, that is so nice,’” she said. “In fact, I have quite a few people who don’t have their grandkids living around here, or don’t have grandkids at all yet, so they just had a heyday of buying things for the kids.”

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This year, Vicki and two helpers wrapped all 179 gifts on Monday night, and the presents were brought to the school on Tuesday.

“The students appreciate it, and the little ones just love it,” she said. “Just seeing their faces light up? The smiles just melt your heart.”

It’s impossible to say how many people participated in the Share Tree, as some people take one tag but others take two or more. One couple took 12 tags this year, and participants in the Share Tree festivities included not just people from Ellsworth, but also from Adrian, Luverne, Rock Rapids, Iowa, and Little Rock, Iowa.

“The kids just look forward to it every year,” Vicki said.

Students at Ellsworth Public School open presents from the Share Tree on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022.
Students at Ellsworth Public School open presents from the Share Tree on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022.
Submitted photo

This year, 37 names remained on the tree by the deadline, so Stan and Vicki headed to Sioux Falls, S.D., to finish up buying the presents, with money of their own along with funds donated by people who wanted to participate without shopping, as well as from the Ellsworth Community Club and Zion Presbyterian Church in Ellsworth.

There’s a box by the tree for monetary donations, but sometimes people even stop by the Steensma house to give them money.

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“Vicki is amazing for doing all this, and the kids just love it,” Labat added.

Students at Ellsworth Public School show the presents from the Share Tree on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022.
Students at Ellsworth Public School show the presents from the Share Tree on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022.
Submitted photo

A 1999 graduate of Jackson County Central and a 2003 graduate of Augsburg College, Kari Lucin started writing for newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota in 2006. During her time as a reporter, she covered beats including education, watershed, county and agriculture, and frequently wrote about health and science. She has also served as an online content coordinator and an engagement specialist at various Forum Communications properties. She was a marketing assistant at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville for two years, where she did design work in addition to writing and social media management.

Lucin is currently a community editor with the Globe of Worthington.

Email: klucin@dglobe.com
Phone: (507) 376-7319
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