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What’s Different about “Free Little Mitten” Trees?
   Free Little Mittens tree at transit station in South Calgary.
By Alice Post, on behalf of theCreek Team, a ministry extension of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Calgary, Alta.
Many of us have seen mitten tree initiatives. In the days leading up to Christmas, a Christmas tree is set up in the church foyer, or in the sanctu- ary, and congregants are invited to bring donations to be placed on the tree. The mitten tree acts as a mean- ingful collection system for our gifts of warmth and care. Gifts are gath- ered up, dedicated and then brought to a community organization that dis- tributes to those in need.
But what do you do when you want to invite people from different com- munities to take part, and you don’t have a building that is in (or within) close distance to those communi- ties? And what do you do when you are not able to gather?
How about taking the mitten tree from inside the church and setting it up outside, letting it be both a col- lection and distribution system? Free
Little Mitten Trees work similarly to Free Little Libraries. They are outside and accessible to all. Everyone in the community is invited to “take what you need and give what you can.”
In December of 2020 and 2021, theCreek Team placed Free Little Mit- ten trees outside the church building at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Calgary, Alta., and also at each of the three transit stations that serve the south Calgary communities where theCreek is present.
In 2020, when the city was in lock- down, thousands of items were given and received, making a meaningful difference to the many who were deeply affected by pandemic restric- tions and job loss. In 2021, with economic recovery in the works, the trees still had an impact, with well over 700 items given and received through the Free Little Mitten trees.
Jean Aitcheson, retired RN and coordina- tor of the depot, and Cam Fraser, St. An- dew’s Presbyterian Church member and new depot volunteer who set up all of the shelving and continues to volunteer.
last year we were invited to occupy an unused funeral home. Unfortu- nately, this past October, after one year there, we were asked to leave, as the owner had other plans for the space.
The local newspaper, the Stratford Beacon Herald, did a story on our plight, and we received an invitation to tour a large upstairs space, about 2,000 square feet, with elevator ac- cess, at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Stratford. Our volunteers loved it on first viewing, as it was warm, bright, clean, open and airy— and just the size of space we needed. Hayter Hall is located in the very up- per part of the church, in the arches, constructed in the 1960s to accom- modate a larger Sunday School and meeting place. For the past number of years, Hayter Hall has not been used effectively.
We joined an online Session meet- ing hosted by the Rev. Mark Wolfe to make a presentation about the work
Free Little Mitten trees placed at high-traffic areas, like transit sta- tions:
• are Covid-safe, since they don’t require anyone to gather indoors • are visibly present and easily ac-
cessible to the community
• inspire and invite community in-
• reach people who might not oth-
erwise seek help
• allow people to give or access
help as, and when, they are able For theCreek Team at St. Andrew’s, Calgary, this was a great fit with our desire to be present in these commu- nities and to be part of the mission of God in south Calgary neighbour- hoods. It meant letting go of the idea that we need to control where the do- nations go and who receives the gifts by letting the Holy Spirit take care of
all of that.
of medical recycling and to answer questions. A week later, Session voted unanimously to invite us to oc- cupy Hayter Hall for three years to start. I again have tears in my eyes as I think about it.
We contacted all the agencies that we assist with supplies, and they came and picked up our prepared inventory. Our supplies reach about 26 countries around the world every year. Our accumulated stock went to Beirut, Lebanon, Cuba, Venezuela, Zambia, South Africa and South Su- dan, as well as Stratford outreach organizations like the food banks, SPCA, a centre for the homeless and at-risk youth, and a women’s shelter.
We moved into Hayter Hall at St. Andrew’s just before Christmas. Our wonderful Christmas gift! We are set up, accepting and sending out medi- cal and personal care supplies once again!
But that is not the end of this good news. St. Andrew’s had large, beau- tiful tables already in this space and asked us if we could use them, oth- erwise, they would have to get rid of
A donation is placed on the mitten tree.
The congregation at St. Andrew’s, Calgary, enthusiastically supported this new initiative with generous and thoughtful gifts of warm hats, mit- tens, scarves—many lovingly hand- made. This year, since Covid restric- tions allowed for in-person worship, a special and meaningful dedication was held during a worship service, with prayers for those who would receive each item.
them. We happily accepted and gave about10eight-footlongheavytables to a local missionary loading a sea container for South Sudan. I bought 10 used standalone metal shelv- ing units to use as our pharmacy shelves. All of our existing wood and steel shelving units that we had used for 25 years and moved with diffi- culty from place to place, and set up each time, were also picked up and are being loaded into the container to go to South Sudan. Talk about a win- win-win!
Cam Fraser, past Clerk of Session and St. Andrew’s resident handy- man, used his ingenuity to line all the new pharmacy shelves and make the medical depot secure, and has be- come a regular volunteer. We all get new friends.
The Stratford Mission Depot is a group of volunteers who accept dis- carded and donated medical, educa- tional, sports equipment, and per- sonal care supplies from individuals, hospitals, long-term care facilities, community care agencies, physician offices and clinics, and schools.
   Church Partners
with Medical
Recycling Depot
  The supplies area of the mission depot. Pictured (left to right) are Cam Fraser, St. Andew’s Presbyterian Church member, and volunteers, Rae Mavor, RN, and Anne Wood, retired RN.
ject began when I started doing short- term medical and humanitarian mis- sion trips, because our host developing communities had no supplies to work with. (The supplies have accompanied me on all 38 mission trips.) Many Presby- terian congregations in southwestern On- tario have donated medical supplies and made items like diapers and quilts. I gave a presentation in Goderich, Ont.,
 “The partnership between St. Andrew’s and the Stratford Mission Depot is a natural one, with a shared vision of mission and outreach. St. Andrew’s is pleased to assist the Stratford Mission Depot in the fulfillment of their mission, which also helps us to fulfil our mission of reaching out with the heart and hands of Jesus into our community, and into the greater world.”
—The Rev. Mark Wolfe, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Stratford, Ont.
By Jean Aitcheson, retired nurse, Avonton Presbyterian Church near Stratford, Ont.
As a member of Avonton Presbyte- rian Church near Stratford, Ont., and a retired registered nurse, I have been coordinating a medical recycling de- pot for more than 25 years. This pro-
to the Women’s Missionary Society Synodical, resulting in several other Presbyterian churches participating in the program.
We have moved our workspace several times: going from various lo- cations at Stratford General Hospital, to the basement of a veterinary busi- ness, to an industrial building, and

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