It’s a bold experiment that places great faith in people.
For Ken Hayes, a church elder at Stockton Presbyterian Church, such trust comes easily, so when he suggested placing a “money tree” in the front yard of the Route 29 church throughout Lent, it didn’t really surprise the small, tight-knit congregation.
For those who may not have heard of a money tree, the concept is both inspiring and simple. A “tree” is constructed of anything from cardboard to branches, and all those who are able are asked to take a clip and attach cash to the tree – it can be a dollar or a hundred dollars.
Those in need are encouraged to come and take as much, or as little, as might help them make ends meet.
There’s no one watching. Whether adding money or removing it, anonymity is expected and respected, explained Hayes.
“Take what you need, give what you can and trust if you dare,” was the phrase that came to mind, said the church elder, while thinking about the best way to explain the concept.
As of Ash Wednesday, there was $600 on the tree, with another $600 in reserve donations to keep it “green” until Easter, said Hayes.
Inspired by the church’s many charitable experiences in Laos, where money trees are common during holidays and other celebrations, Hayes thought creating such a powerful offering in Stockton, N.J., would be well-received.
After considering how much support the church had brought to the struggling nation – the congregation built a school for 300 children last year and developed a program providing prosthetic limbs to those injured from buried bombs that remained after the Vietnam War –Hayes suggested the Stockton money tree as a way to offer help to the needy locally.
“It’s a crazy idea, but I’m really proud of Ken Hayes for initiating it,” said longtime church member, Carol Hoekje. “Who knows where it will lead. We’re reaching out into the community and into the world.”
Hoekje, who lives in Lambertville, N.J., said she views the money tree as an “uplifting and positive symbol for our times.”
It’s important to realize that not everyone who lives in and around Stockton is living comfortably, said Hayes. “There are people who might need a car payment to get them through, single moms who are struggling and some who are just one paycheck away” from slipping into poverty.
The act of giving is equally important as that of receiving, Hayes and Hoekje agreed, noting that the tree sends a caring, loving message to young people as well as others.
The tree, adorned with lights, will remain for the 40 days of Lent. “We hope to keep it green the whole time,” said Hayes, adding, “I think it’s a fresh idea to give up a buck a day, instead of giving up chocolate” for Lent.
“My hope is everyone does it … maybe people will put them up instead of a Christmas tree,” Hayes said. “Maybe it’s crazy, but it’s crazy good.”