07.16.2014

A Giving Tree Grows in Kirkland

By Tiffany Greenleaf Koenig, Treehouse Volunteer Writer

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Two years ago, an unusual tree took root in an Eastside office. It stands on a carpet of Astroturf, and its branches sprout backpacks instead of leaves.

The giving tree has become the centerpiece of an annual Treehouse donation drive hosted by PACE, a Kirkland-based civil engineering firm. Since 2012, staff and clients have donated dozens of backpacks and raised almost $2,000 in support of the Treehouse Wearhouse during the busy back-to-school season.

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The seed for the project was a Treehouse flyer that Michelle Meeds, an accountant at PACE, noticed on a coworker’s desk.

“I honed in on the fact that it was local,” Michelle recalls. “We work a lot in King County, and I thought it was good to give back to the community we’re a part of.” Treehouse’s mission to help foster kids succeed struck a chord. “Kids are our future. They deserve to start out right. I remember being in school, and how important it was to fit in and look nice.”

Retail Therapy for a Good Cause

The office donation drive allowed Michelle to indulge in one of her favorite pastimes—shopping. With approval from her supervisor, she led the charge on the project, sending out office-wide announcements and offering to do the shopping for her coworkers. She didn’t want to hear any excuses for not getting involved.

The plan has worked two years in a row. Staff members choose cards bearing wish lists from foster kids and do their own shopping or pass the cards on to Michelle, along with cash for the purchases. She shops for each kid individually, combing sale racks at familiar stores and keeping an eye out for the name-brand backpacks that teenagers prefer.

Last year’s drive concluded with a group shopping spree. Michelle and other staff members grabbed the tags that were left, headed to the clearance clothing racks at Fred Meyer, and loaded up their carts.

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Cultivating Enthusiasm

To display the donated items, PACE commissioned a giving tree from an employee with a penchant for woodworking. Set up by the front desk and festooned with brightly colored backpacks, the tree serves as a cheerful reminder of the ongoing event. Photos of the tree are posted on PACE’s website and Facebook page, prompting clients to donate too.

Last year the company’s president, Marty Penhallegon, drove Michelle to the Wearhouse to drop off the windfall. “When the boss is on board, other people want to get on board,” Michelle says. “They take it more seriously.”

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

PACE’s involvement with Treehouse has since expanded. Last year the executive committee got creative and donned chef’s hats to host a benefit breakfast at the office. In December, PACE staff endured chilly temperatures to volunteer at Westlake Center’s Holiday Carousel. Proceeds for both events went to Treehouse.

“Giving back to the community is so important,” Michelle reiterates. “And it can be fun if you make it fun.”

The giving tree will be in full bloom again soon when the third Treehouse donation drive launches this month at PACE.

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About the Author

Tiffany Greenleaf Koenig is a freelance writer with a special interest in nonprofit communications. She has generously shared her time and talent as a volunteer supporting the Treehouse blog.  She lives in Enumclaw with her husband, Patrick, and their mischievous border collie, Sam.


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