Eighth grade athletes from Osage Trail Middle School were taught a lesson in humanity on Tuesday evening.

Both the boys and girls basketball teams of the school volunteered to help out children in need who are living within their community.

“We wanted to teach our players something that goes beyond winning,” says Osage Trail Middle School girls basketball coach Jamie Lamb.

Each member of the boys team partnered with a player from the girls team and together they cooperated in assisting with The Giving Tree, a holiday charity program sponsored by Fort Osage School District and LINC.

Tracy Luna, who coordinates Giving Tree at the Clermont Elementary site, said the program will provide clothing, food and Christmas presents to 435 area children this year. This will be her tenth year as coordinator of the holiday project.

“Families in need were able to sign up in October to receive meal boxes and gifts for their children in time for the holidays,” said Luna. “Their names were then put on an ornament that was hung on a Christmas tree at each Fort Osage district building. A teacher, staff member, parent, or business could pick one or several ornaments out to sponsor a family or child.”

Luna added that 174 families, including 10 senior citizens, within the Fort Osage community signed up to be sponsored for the Giving Tree program. However, she says, family members themselves had to volunteer at school functions such as PTO meetings or extracurricular activities in order to remain eligible for donations.

“We wanted parents who signed-up to become more active and involved in their child’s education,” says Luna. “It was an idea to get them more comfortable in receiving donations.”

The families requesting aid were given a wishlist to be filled out by a child to see what they wanted on Christmas morning, says Luna. Each charity package consisted of one clothing outfit, such as a shirt, pants and shoes (or a full-size coat in lieu of clothes), two toy presents requested by the children and a meal box of either turkey or ham, mashed potatoes, vegetables and breakfast cereals proportinate to the family size.

About $50,000 worth in both food and presents was raised this year for The Giving Tree, Luna says. One local church even donated 300 pairs of shoes. Unfortunately, though, she also mentioned the Giving Tree did not receive a sufficient amount of donations this year. “This year we had an increase of 30 families,” she said. Luna says the holiday packages will be distributed to families today, Wednesday.

It usually takes countless hours to assemble the charity packages with only one to three Giving Tree volunteers, but Paul Lichtenauer of LINC, who coordinated the Giving Tree program at the Elm Grove Elementary site, says the eighth grade basketball teams came to the rescue.

“What takes more than five hours, the basketball teams did it in 90 minutes,” says Lichtenauer.

Both the boys and girls basketball teams comprise nearly 50 players. The entire roster was split between the Clermont and Elm Grove sites in order to help out with Giving Tree, say both Luna and Lichtenauer. The athletes assisted with the effort by organizing meal boxes, ensuring each present wishlist was fulfilled, sorting both food and gifts and keeping inventory of all the furnished supplies.

Each player was paired up with their basketball sibling, a program Osage Trail utilizes that helps teammates support each other throughout the season.

“Above all, this has been a bonding experience,” says Coach Shawn Ashby of the Osage Trail boys team. “The two teams never have a chance to work together given their opposite game schedules. We thought this would be a great opportunity for that and to give back to their community.”

Lamb says the idea for this volunteering opportunity popped up in her head one night. “I thought this was a great platform to show our kids the importance of helping out one another. I remember back in college where we discussed how a coach is the second most influential person on a kids’ life besides their parents. I was thinking what more than a better way to show these players character building and integrity.”

Assistant coach Jeff McMillen said this volunteer event brought a sense of cohesiveness and created camaraderie among the teams' players.

This was the first year the Osage Trail teams helped out with The Giving Tree. Lamb hopes it will become a tradition not only with the school, but for her current players as they get older.