Paul Coleman and Sonja Gerken of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Saco & Biddeford hang items like hats and gloves and more on the Tree of Hope outside the church on a recent day. The congregation hopes to keep the tree filled with items available for the taking to those in need, throughout the winter months and welcomes contributions from others who would like to help. Tammy Wells Photo

SACO — The crabapple tree outside the Unitarian Universalist Church of Saco & Biddeford is bearing more than crabapples these days and will continue to do so throughout the winter.

Gloves, hats, socks, scarves, toiletries like tissues, toothbrushes, and other items, secured against the weather in zip-top bags, hang from the branches of the so-called Tree of Hope outside the church at 60 School St., and are available to those in the community who need them.

Church members trimmed the tree on Sunday, Nov. 21.

A cozy hat hangs on the Tree of Hope at 60 School Street in Saco- the Unitarian Universalist Church of Saco & Biddeford, on a recent day. Kept dry in a zip-top bag, it and other items like it are available to those who need them. Tammy Wells Photo

Sonja Gerken was among the trimmers.

“People came within 20 minutes” of the items being hung from the tree branches to take the offerings, said Gerken. “Obviously, there’s a need.”

Last year, during the pandemic, the congregation “adopted’ two families over the holidays. The prior year, they trimmed the Tree of Hope with clear ornaments bearing inspirational messages. This year, they went a step further, hanging the ornaments — and also hanging practical items to help keep out the cold, or fill some other need.

“Our motto is the same as the one for our Little Free Pantry which stands nearby,” said Gerken, “Take what you need, Share what you can”.

“It’s a great thing,” said Paul Coleman, who got involved with the project when he became a church board member.

The Little Free Pantry is a couple of steps away, and is filled with groceries like packaged shelf stable items like pasta mixes, soups, root vegetables, and the like. Canned items are often available unless the weather is below freezing.

“It’s not meant to replace a food pantry,” said Gerken, but helps those in a pinch.

Church members say others in the community are welcome to hang items on the Tree of Hope.

“We hope to continue to decorate the tree throughout the cold months ahead,” she said.

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