A modest Christmas tree, no more than five feet tall leans against a playground fence in a corner of San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza. Wires from its string of lights connect to a pair of solar panels. A small wiry man in a bright red baseball cap dashes back and forth, lugging cardboard boxes, adjusting tree lights and shepherding a group of pint size school kids. And to think, Wayne Standerwick waits all year for this.
San Francisco's Civic Center Victory Garden is near where the tree sits. [Photo: SF Citizen
Tuesday, Dec 8, 2009 Updated at 4:45 PM PDT
Every year, this scene plays out with Standerwick at its frenetic epicenter. He buys a small Christmas tree, gets local school kids to design ornaments, and then invites them to decorate it. He calls it a community Christmas tree.
To Standwerwick, the tree isn’t just a holiday decoration -- it’s the cornerstone of a global connection. He gets children as far away as Germany and Austria to contribute ornaments and homemade cards.
“The idea is they will start communicating with the children in other countries and they’ll form a relationship," Standerwick says in between waves of kids.
What doesn’t fit on the tree goes to convalescent homes and community centers. Standerwick visits Bay Area classrooms to oversee the ornament making.
“I go into schools and I tell them this is your chance to give back and make a difference to all,” he says.
A few years ago, someone stole the tree along with the solar panels and the kids’ homemade ornaments. Standerwick was hurt, but quickly replaced the stolen items. These days the tree is chained to a fence and the solar panels go home at night.
Today, bus loads of students turned out at Civic Center to decorate the community tree. Standerwick had a book and a kiwi for each of them – the goodies donated by local farmers and bookstores. Fifty yards away, the magnificent official Civic Center tree faced San Francisco City Hall. But the buzz centered around the tiny tree in a quiet corner of the plaza.
A crowd of children screamed and laughed as they searched for empty branches to hang ornaments. And somewhere in the scuffle, the small man in the bright red hat disappeared into the crowd -- to relish in the joyful chaos he’d created.