The money tree in the front yard of Stockton Presbyterian Church is living up to its mission.
“It’s one of the best things I’ve ever been a part of,” said Ken Hayes, a church elder who initiated the unusual concept to help those in need in and around the New Jersey community.
The small tree began with $600 in cash, from single dollar bills to $20 bills, clipped to it on Fat Tuesday. Hayes and the church congregation intended for people to freely take as much – or as little – as they might need for whatever financial crisis they might be facing. And, for those who could, to add money, as needed.
There is no security, no one watching or monitoring the activity. The money tree is about trust and faith, explained Hayes, earlier.
It didn’t take long for the green bills to disappear. About a week after it debuted, church and other community members added another $150 to “keep it green,” Hayes said.
Soon, however, the tree was bare, sparking concern and the “need to make it green again,” said the church elder. Some in the town responded by heading to the bank and adding money. Others, said Hayes, expressed worry about where the funds were going.
Hayes remained optimistic, saying, “It’s probably going to people who need it.”
Then, the first note was left on the tree. “Thank you – Putting towards fuel,” it read. It was signed with two small hearts.
“The note was very helpful,” Hayes said. “It was very confirming for us.”
A second note followed. It, too, thanked the community. The writer said he or she was “floored” to learn of the generosity. “I have lost work and was just diagnosed with cancer. This will help me with food and small bill. When I get back on my feet, I would like to return in some way – your kindness.”
That message meant a great deal, as well, noted Hayes.
Someone sent a $400 check to the church, asking that the money be placed on the tree. To date, Hayes estimated, about $1,000 has been placed – and removed - from the tree.
This charitable act, said Hayes, has “started a large conversation” around giving. While a few have expressed anxiety about the program and suggested the need for a security camera, others have rejected that idea, saying there should be no strings attached to this bold effort.
Hayes said, another church asked if Stockton Presbyterian would mind if they too started a money tree. “Of course not,” he told them, noting the “new awareness” the tree and what it represents has brought to others.
While Hayes said he never anticipated the valuable discussions that have arisen in the weeks since the money tree began, he’s very grateful for them.
The church, and larger community, hope to keep the tree green until Easter.
The money tree is on South Main Street near the intersection of Bridge and Main, in Stockton, N.J. Easter is Sunday, April 21.