VIDEO: Giving Tree is a neighborhood gift to restless kids, harried parents

It was near the end of March when Long Beach locals Ron Rulison and Robert McNeel, feeling a bit stuck and suspecting their neighbors, especially kids, felt the same way, decided to create a giving tree.

They had gotten an idea from a friend—no, the friend was not Shel Silverstein—about creating a destination where children could pick a small gift hanging from a branch to take home. It seemed a splendid concept, so they posted it to neighborhood social network, Nextdoor and, in the month and a half since, McNeel and Rulison have seen their project blossom.

“At first we were hanging about 10 items on the tree,” McNeel said. “Now, I think we’re at 50.”

Robert McNeel and Ron Rulison stand in front of their “giving tree” with their pet turtle. Photo by Cheantay Jensen.

Initially limiting notice to the surrounding neighborhood, word soon spread and they found visitors coming from as far as Cerritos on a night basis. (McNeel said the Cerritos residents drive over every night, park and have their kids bike the rest of the way to the tree.)

McNeel and Rulison say they aren’t surprised the tree has been a hit. The pair knew that offering the neighborhood kids an outdoor activity to look forward to was just what kids, and parents, needed to mix up the monotony of their days.

What the couple wasn’t expecting was how the giving came full circle. Neighborhood kids started bringing their own toys to the tree and many families have donated items and snacks—a brother and sister donated $8 of their hard-earned “cleaning money.”

Parents have expressed how grateful they are to Rulison and McNeel for the “giving tree,” but it’s more than just a new toy or a treat for the kids; many parents are now using the tree as a reward that motivates their kids to finish their homework or get dressed that day.

And the parents, the couple said, enjoy it too—maybe, even, a little more. While the children scour the tree for their next take-home treasure, parents chat with the couple and sip on homemade margaritas, courtesy Rulison and McNeel. The activity, the couple admits, has made the neighborhood a lot closer.

“I didn’t know Rob and Ron before,” neighbor Lauren Wessels said, “So, now we stop and talk and have margaritas. It’s fun.”

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Cheantay Jensen is an editorial intern who covers art and culture for the Hi-lo section of the Long Beach Post.