The Giving Tree: Marco YMCA provides Christmas to those who may otherwise go without


Santa's been calling all over Marco lately, but one of his more special visits might well have been Dec. 14 at the Greater Marco Family YMCA.

About 200 children and parents enjoyed the 14th annual "Giving Tree" held at the Y's Youth Center, where they all dined on a sumptuous meal and opened presents.

Kairi Camandona gazes up at Santa in typical wonderment after receiving her gift at the Y's Giving Tree event.

Considering most of the families hailed from economically modest East Naples, the Y's community relations manager Anthony DeLucia aptly summed up the evening's significance.

"For some of the children here," he said, "this could be their only way of getting a Christmas present, and for them and their moms and dads having a wholesome dinner."

For Carlos Herrera, wife Natalia and children Angelique and Emelio, it was the first giving tree they'd attended. The youngsters attend Manatee Elementary School.

"Tonight is beautiful," Herrera said above the cheerful din that marked the whole evening. "We thank everybody for doing this."

Volunteers Colleen Bowler, Jayne Hampton, Kim Bappe and Sue Thomas are seen with part of the treasure trove of presents given out during the evening.

Herrera and his wife were particularly impressed by the presents their children received – books for the boy and a puzzle game for the girl.

Herrera agreed that creative presents like this were highly appreciated.

The Y giving tree is a tradition devised by Youth Development Manager Stephanie Pepper and School Age Manager Charlene Garcia. They, along with the help of at least two dozen helpers, make sure the evening is memorable every year around this time.

For more on the Y's wide variety of programs and activities for adults and children, visit or call 394-YMCA (9622). Follow on Twitter at greatermarcoymca, or on Facebook at marcoymca.