On a Monday afternoon, Amber Wiese waits for her daughter, Amara, 6, to arrive from school and her 1-year-old daughter, Morgan, to awake from her nap. Her oldest child, Dominic, 9, has a few hours yet before he’s done with school. Her home is calm as she talks about how grateful she is to those who supported the local Giving Trees this year.
The Wiese family was one of five families to benefit from the Giving Tree project’s generosity.
The 30-year-old mother of three was surprised when she got the call last month alerting her that she and her children had been selected as a family this year. Amara attends KIDSTOP at Kennedy Community School in St. Joseph. Wiese said organizers contacted leaders of the after-school program at Kennedy for suggestions of who to assist and they gave them Wiese’s name.
“I was big-time surprised,” Amber Wiese said with a smile. “It’s a blessing.”
The St. Joseph resident used to work in a local Head Start program so she was a bit familiar with the program. When she went to pick up the presents, that familiarity turned to amazement. They had a pile of gifts for each member of the family. From a variety of clothes and toys to a $100 gift card to Coborn’s, there were about 60 gifts total, she said.
“I really want to thank them for their kindness, generosity and support for my children and myself,” she said. “It’s amazing to see a community take care of one another.”
As a single parent who attends school full-time, Wiese will tell you her life has not been an easy one. She said there is a belief about low-income families that supports the idea all they want is a handout and they are comfortable with their situation. Her response is, “We’re doing the best we can and should not be ashamed of needing assistance.”
Living in poverty is beyond most people’s imagining, Wiese said.
“We’ve sacrificed a lot,” she said of her family. “It’s hard to accept the realization of where you are and that you need help. Living in poverty is something you can’t understand until you’ve experienced it.”
Wiese is a junior at St. Cloud State University. She is working on a degree in social work and wants to work in child-protection services. She is three semesters away from her degree. She was also recently elected vice president of the Student Social Work Association at SCSU.
Wiese lights up as she talks about her children. Amara is in kindergarten at Kennedy Community School and Dominic is in his fourth year as a student in the Chinese immersion program at Madison Elementary School in St. Cloud.
The hardships and sacrifices she has experienced include not working so she can spend more time with her children and continue her education. Not working means a sacrifice of material things and opportunities, but the family stays busy with community and church involvement. Amara was born at 24 weeks and has special needs. She was in the neonatal intensive care unit for six months.
Through it all, their faith remains strong. The family attends Resurrection Lutheran Church and Gateway Church in St. Joseph. When Wiese told Dominic he might share the story of how they received the Christmas gifts, he said, “They bought them, but God inspired them to give them to us.”
Family Giving Trees are organized by local organizations to help low-income families. Little trees with lists of needed items were located throughout the city. This was the first year the Wiese family was selected. Wiese said she looks forward to being in a position to help others just as the community helped her.