Botsford Elementary students discover the Giving Tree at Botsford Commons

 When 42 first-grade students from Botsford Elementary School arrived at Botsford Commons – A Beaumont Community to sing holiday carols for its residents, they had no idea what surprises awaited them — until they discovered the Giving Tree.

The Giving Tree event, held each December, began seven years ago through Botsford Commons’ ongoing partnership with Botsford Elementary, a school in Livonia’s Clarenceville School District.

Residents, visitors and staff waited eagerly as the young students quietly paraded into the community’s large dining room with a brightly decorated Christmas tree. Accompanying the students were teachers Colleen Carson and Cheri DeLong and Principal Christine Teff.

Fullness of Life Coordinator Barb Smith welcomed the students, who began singing holiday carols led by their teachers. The familiar tunes prompted the seniors to readily sing along and applaud.

After students sang, the Giving Tree event revealed its first big surprise — a visit from Santa. He strolled in with a jolly greeting to the children’s delight and expressions of amazement.

Upon seating himself in front of the Giving Tree, Santa explained that he had come all the way from the North Pole to see how they were doing. And then, he asked senior elves to pass out bags that had been hidden from view. The bags held specially wrapped presents for each student.

What Santa didn’t reveal to the children is that he is Gary Lockwood, a volunteer who has been playing Santa for 24 years. He and his wife Tammy Lockwood have a special relationship with Botsford Commons. Tammy’s mother Carol Stevens lived at Botsford Commons before she died from Alzheimer’s three years ago. Each year they drive from their Bellaire home in northern Michigan to be part of the Giving Tree event.

Twenty-five years ago, Lockwood and her mother made the Santa outfit that her husband still wears to volunteer for Botsford Commons, food pantries, Traverse City’s annual Festival of Trains and other events.

“This is such a special celebration that my mom enjoyed, and we wouldn’t miss it,” said Lockwood. “Seeing the children and residents together is heartwarming. It will bring tears to your eyes.”

The students didn’t open their bags or presents until Santa gave the okay. Then the “oohs and ahs” began as they unwrapped new children’s books.

In preparation for the event, residents and staff donated money to purchase $20 worth of books from Scholastic for each student, based on students’ reading level and interests. Residential Home Health and Senior Helpers donated the bags. A generous resident, who wished to remain anonymous, donated the final surprises tucked under the Giving Tree — stuffed animal “reading buddies” for each child.

“The gifts of books means so much and are the first that some of our children have ever received,” said Principal Teff. “It encourages them to read at home. We are so grateful to have this partnership with Botsford Commons.”

According to Colleen Kashawlic, manager of Business Development for Botsford Commons, resident Sherry Hamilton, now deceased, helped start the relationship with Botsford Elementary.

Kashawlic added, “The Giving Tree is for everyone. It has become a treasured tradition in our community.”