Thursday, December 9, 2021

Giving Tree is not a Mirage

Photos By Maureen Chodaba:From left: Joan Pidherny, Katie Loeb-Schwab, Pat LaPato and Ann Todryk, by the Giving Tree.

Photos By Maureen Chodaba:From left: Joan Pidherny, Katie Loeb-Schwab, Pat LaPato and Ann Todryk, by the Giving Tree.

By Maureen Chodaba 

For the past seven years, the Mirage On the Gulf condominium has been making sure that Christmas is not a mirage for families in need. The holidays can be a difficult time for those who do not have the financial ability to buy gifts for children and other family members. This waterfront community, located at 1070 South Collier Blvd., believes in engaging their spirit of generosity to help those in that situation.

The project was the brainchild of Mirage residents Joan Pidherny and Pat LaPato. They wanted to start a Giving Tree to support a family in need for the holidays. They initially contacted Cathy Vergo at the Marco Island Charter Middle School, who helped them identify a specific family. In its year of inception, the Giving Tree supported one family, while this year the project is supporting two. This year, Mirage residents Katie Loeb-Schwab and Ann Todryk have stepped up to the lead with Joan and Pat as their helpers. But the team of four insists that it is the entire community of the Mirage that pulls together for this wonderful cause.

A beautiful Giving Tree stands proudly in the lobby of the Mirage On the Gulf. At the beginning of the holiday season, the tree is filled with gift tags.



The tags themselves are each a work of art, as the Mirage Giving Tree leaders create them from coloring book images. The families, whose identities remain private, are depicted as different holiday images like Snowmen or Santa Claus. The tags list the intended recipient’s gender, age and suggestions for an appropriate gift. Residents at the Mirage choose a tag and then shop for the gifts. Some residents, particularly those who are up north with their families for the holiday season, choose to forego the shopping, but provide the Giving Tree team with a check that is used to financially support the cause. Each member of the chosen adopted families will receive a gift. The team likes to provide the heads of the households with gift cards to Walmart, granting them the dignity to shop on their own for family gifts or even groceries.

Over the years, the reasons for a particular family’s need have been very diverse. Joan Pidherny said, “Some of the families are those who have fallen through the cracks. The parents may be working, but their income is enough just to get by and pay their bills. Sometimes there is nothing extra for special items like Christmas gifts. That’s why we are here to help.” In other cases, a family



may be in need due to a sudden health crisis or accident. Unfortunately, life can change abruptly, altering the financial status of a family in one swift moment. Once again, it is the mission of the Mirage Giving Tree team to bring happiness to the hearts of families in crisis at this special time of the year.

The lobby of the Mirage engulfs one with a feeling of warmth and celebration. In addition to the Giving Tree, there is a display of angels, a winter wonderland scene and a menorah to celebrate Hanukkah. The real spirit comes from the kindness and generosity of the people who live in this 59-unit community. Katie Loeb-Schwab remarked on the enthusiasm of the Mirage residents, saying, “The participation has been wonderful! There is good in everyone!”

This Giving Tree team hopes to inspire other communities on Marco Island to start Giving Trees of their own. Next year, the team would be more than happy to meet with other condominiums to explain just how they do it.

Marco Island is indeed a city of hope and charity, not just during the holidays, but all year long. The Mirage On the Gulf is one of many shining stars reflecting Marco Island’s goodness and light. May that light touch the lives of those who live in darkness. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all!

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