‘Tis almost the season to be jolly. For many Kansas Citians, that means it’s time to reach out to our less fortunate neighbors.
There are lots of ways to help during the Christmas and winter holiday season: food and clothing drives, church programs, dropping a few nickels in the Salvation Army bucket. All are good choices.
For many Kansas Citians, the Mayor’s Christmas Tree charity is also an option. According to legend, former Mayor George Shelley began the tradition in the late 1800s — he bought a tree with his own funds, then distributed food baskets to the poor.
From that day to this, off and on, Kansas City’s mayor has played a role in raising money and awareness for the city’s less fortunate. On Friday, a huge mayor’s Christmas tree was wheeled into place at Crown Center, where a lighting ceremony later this month will help kick off the holiday season.
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It should be fun. We hope the charitable purpose of the fund is on everyone’s mind when the tree is lit.
According to its latest tax return, the Mayor’s Christmas Tree Association lost $37,678 last year. It now has just $127,128 in the bank.
The charity still raises money and still serves an important purpose: It uses contributions to provide gift cards to low-income families and senior citizens. It also provides funds for programs that offer food, clothing and utility assistance for clients.
But it takes in roughly one-third as much money as it did 20 years ago. That means the Mayor’s Christmas Tree is able to help fewer residents during the holiday season.
None of this is Mayor Sly James’ fault. In fact, last year his office worked to raise money for the fund during July. That effort, sadly, seems to have fallen short. The fund raised half as much money in 2016 as it did the year before.
The mayor is considered one of the officers of the charity, but Kansas Citians can’t reasonably expect him — or any mayor — to devote substantial time to raising money or administering the fund. The mayor gives the program a face and a voice, and others do the work.
It’s time Kansas Citians outside of City Hall stepped up to help the Mayor’s Christmas Tree Fund.
That means giving more money, of course. But that may also mean a new, independent board of directors, made up of members with experience in charitable giving. Perhaps it also means a search for more corporate support.
The Mayor’s Christmas Tree Fund is an important tradition in Kansas City, and it should continue. Let’s hope Kansas Citians of good will step forward to make the charity what everyone wants it to be.