Giving Tree a holiday tradition

Giving Tree
Jackie Estes and her seven-year-old granddaughter Jasmine Sparks in front of this year’s Paradise Bagels Giving Tree. – Tom Vaught | Sun

HOLMES BEACH – As she does every year, Paradise Bagels & Cafe owner Jackie Estes is asking the Island community to support her annual Giving Tree project that assists underprivileged children during the Christmas holidays.

The Giving Tree near the front door of the Paradise Bagels & Cafe dining room contains removable tags that provide an unnamed child’s age, size and Christmas wishes.

“This is our 20th year of doing the tree. We started with Anna Maria Elementary School, and then other people heard about us and asked if we had room in our hearts to help some foster kids and some of the kids that live in town,” Estes said.

Recipient families are vetted in advance to help ensure the donated gifts go to those in need, and Estes does not accept cash or gift cards as part of her Giving Tree charity.

“It says on our sign, ‘Will you help a child have Christmas?’ Take a tag, buy a gift, wrap it and affix the tag to the gift. Drop it off by Dec. 20, and we’ll get it to either the school, the church or the foster kids we’re working with. Lately, the school has had me call the parents to pick the gifts up here because the school closes so early for the holidays,” Estes said.

“The tags don’t have a name. It has a child’s age and size and what they would like. Most of them ask for socks and some of them ask for pajamas, underwear, an outfit and stuff like that. I always ask the people who take a tag to please buy them something to wear because they need it, and buy them some kind of gift because they want it – a toy or something,” Estes said.

“We only take children up to age 15. We don’t take the older kids anymore, but we do take multiple siblings from the same family,” she added.

Estes worked on her Giving Tree project with former Anna Maria Elementary guidance counselor Cindi Harrison for many years, and now she’s working with the school’s new counselor.

“I do this because my foster boy, Ty, went to Anna Maria Elementary many years ago, and he came home and said this little girl wears the same dress every day. I went to bring some clothes to the school and she had tape around her shoe holding the bottom on. So, I said what can we do to help? Let me take this little girl and get her some clothes and shoes. They asked the dad and the dad said it was OK,” Estes recalled.

This led her to conclude there were other kids and families on the Island that needed help – including children whose parents were part of the Island’s service industry, including single moms working as waitresses.

“We were sometimes doing 50-60 kids, but now it’s less because the Island is so expensive and none of the servers can afford to live here. But there are still children of the servers and waitresses that go to the school and some of them struggle,” Estes said.

The Paradise Bagels Giving Tree goes up before the annual Thanksgiving dinner Estes and her staff provide for those in need.

“This year we fed 126 people and cooked 16 turkeys. You get all you want to eat and then there’s pies, cakes and cookies,” Estes said.

To assist a child or learn more about the Giving Tree efforts, visit Paradise Bagels at 3210 East Bay Drive in Holmes Beach. The cafe is in the Anna Maria Island Shops near Walgreens. You can also call Paradise Bagels at 941-779-1212.