Tree theft won’t deflate children’s advocate

In the dead of night — and without a trace — Civic Center Plaza’s 6-foot Christmas tree, decorated by children, disappeared — but Wayne Standerwick isn’t letting the situation ruin his Christmas spirit.

“No, I’m not going to let it upset me anymore. I forgive them and I feel like if they learn what these kids learn about giving to others, they wouldn’t have done this,” said Standerwick, founder of the Children’s Community Tree project.

Having made its debut at the Plaza on Dec. 6, the tree was a project Standerwick started five years ago to teach local schoolchildren the “joy of giving.” After a stint at Civic Center Plaza, the tree was expected to be shared and transferred to a senior center or a homeless shelter.

Stolen in the early-morning darkness of Dec. 9, the tree was decorated with the help of more than 400 children, ages 4 to 10, from Junipero Serra Elementary School. Because of its solar-powered lights and ornaments made out of recycled materials and nontoxic paint, the tree was also dubbed the “first environmentally friendly public tree,” and taught the children a lesson about energy efficiency, Standerwick said.

When the kids learned the Grinch stole their masterpiece, they were devastated.

“They kept asking, ‘Why?’ They couldn’t understandwhy someone would do this,” Standerwick said.

Sandy Lee of the Recreation and Park Department, who issued the permit for Standerwick’s tree, was in shock herself.

“This was the children’s tree, how could anyone be so mean?” Lee asked.

Because of the circumstances, Recreation and Park has offered Standerwick another permit if he chooses to replace the tree, Lee said.

Sandra Perera, the aunt of a student who helped decorate the tree, had a hard time explaining to her nephew why anyone would do such a thing.

“We just told him, maybe someone really needed a tree and they couldn’t get one [anywhere else],” Perera said.

Sunday night, Standerwick enlisted the help of a Web designer and created a Web page to fuel donations and increase awareness about the missing-in-action tree. If all goes well, he hopes to have a new tree up by the end of the week.

The idea, however, was much more complicated than simply finding the funds and student volunteers to replace the tree.

“What I’m hoping for, really, is that this goes to more schools and cities throughout country, and I’d really like [the act of giving] to be taught as part of curriculum. I know it might sound a little far-fetched, but if we do, when the kids become adults, [they] will be living in a better world.”

For more, visit www.childrenscommunitytree.org.

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