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MIT's Panhellenic Association provides holiday gifts for more than 1,000 area children

This holiday season the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Panhellenic Association is hoping to tickle the fancies of 1,500 children they've never met.

They're running the campus Giving Tree program which matches members of the MIT community with the names and holiday wish lists of young children from needy families in Cambridge and Boston.

These children, who range in age from infancy to six years old, are not likely to receive gifts this holiday season without the help of people like Lauren Erb, a sophomore in mathematics who is project coordinator of this year's Giving Tree.

The program will give wrapped holiday gifts costing $5 to $10 each to children in shelters and day care centers, including The Maynard School and Elizabeth Peabody House in Cambridge, and South Boston Neighborhood House and Associated Day Care Services in Boston.

Many of the children had specific gift requests.

"Some of them ask for socks, some ask for Nintendo. One nine-year-old boy said it was his first year in foster care and he didn't want to ask for too much, so he just asked for a small box of candy," said Erb, who is chair of the Panhellenic Association's community service committee.

Fraternities, sororities and other campus living groups are given lists of children's names, ages and gift requests to fulfill. Participating Institute staff members are assigned to shop for individual children. So far the Giving Tree has collected enough toys or money to purchase gifts for about 1,300 boys and girls. They're hoping to collect another 200 presents from Institute members before 5pm Monday, Dec. 14, when the drive ends.

The Giving Tree has been jointly sponsored by the MIT Panhellenic Association and the MIT Public Service Center since 1992. Erb works with the leaders of fraternities, sororities, dormitories and other living groups to help them participate. The Public Service Center works the faculty/staff side of the program.

"This is a nice job because you help children who wouldn't receive anything otherwise," said Erb, who is putting long hours into the project despite the end-of-term crunch. "You actually make a difference. It's very satisfying."

"The success of this program is a result of the overwhelming generosity of the individuals and groups who give gifts and make monetary donations," said Heather Trickett of the Public Service Center. "Responding to the children's specific gift requests makes the gift-giving process more personalized and rewarding for all those involved."

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