Office of Leadership and Community Engagement works with IT to keep Holiday Helper Tree tradition alive amid COVID-19 pandemic
In July, when most people at Georgia Southern University were wondering when students, faculty and staff would be able to return to campus, Jordan Wilburn was thinking about the upcoming holiday season. Specifically, Wilburn, who is the Community Engagement Coordinator in the Office of Leadership and Community Engagement, was brainstorming ways to keep the Holiday Helper Tree, a 27-year-old holiday tradition, alive during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wilburn enlisted the help of systems software developer Neisha Sadhnani in IT Services to make the Holiday Helper Tree virtual, and after five months of hard work, virtual tags are now available to be pulled to give gifts to members of the Statesboro community in need. This year, tags will be pulled online, and participants will mail their gift directly to the organization on their tag.
“Thanks to IT Services, hundreds of community members will receive a gift this holiday season in spite of COVID-19,” Wilburn said. “So many things have been canceled this year, and we were determined that this would not be one of them. Students, staff and faculty have been reaching out in droves, thrilled that they can still participate.”
Sadhnani said when she was given the project, she was excited to use her programming skills for such a good cause.
“The idea seemed simple to build an application to encourage Eagle Nation to support the community, but it would positively impact at multiple levels, if successful,” Sadhnani said. “Eagle Nation wouldn’t have to worry about the spread of viruses by physically touching the tags, and they can participate from anywhere at any time, even from the luxury of their couches.”
Kelsey Kinnamon, a graduate student in the Sport and Exercise Psychology Program, was one of many students, faculty and staff who contacted Wilburn to see if the event would still happen in 2020. Kinnamon has pulled tags every year with the Sport and Exercise Psychology Club, and she didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to serve her community.
“I think now more than ever, many of us are seeking connection and community involvement,” she said. “We know how much even one small act of kindness can mean, and I think that’s the great thing about the tree. Even just one small gift can foster so much connection and support, and we were hopeful the opportunity to be involved would be there.”
One benefit of the tree being virtual is that it’s accessible to more people, including students, faculty and staff on the Armstrong and Liberty Campuses. Kinnamon said the process was easy and convenient.
“I actually think more people may be likely to be involved,” she said. “It was extremely easy to get on the tree’s website and choose as many gifts as we needed for each person in our club, and we didn’t have to go anywhere to do so. I think it is also super easy to hop online and pick out a gift and have it sent to where it needs to be.”
Sadhnani, who juggled multiple big projects while working on the Holiday Helper Tree, said she is proud to have worked on a project that will help so many people and to finish it in time for the holiday season.
“When Jordan shared with me the gift requests that people asked for, the list included simple things like light-up toys, slippers, pants, sweaters, hand lotion and washing detergent, among other things,” Sadhnani said. “I realized how big and impactful this project will be, touching the lives of so many and how thoughtful these efforts are made by the Office of Leadership and Community Engagement and Jordan Wilburn every year.”
Holiday Helper Tree tags can be pulled from now until Dec. 4. To pull a tag, visit students.georgiasouthern.edu/LeadServe/hht/.