"From: me / To: someone in need" – it warms the heart and brings a tear to the eye!
Sadly, December is not a joyful time for everyone. Outside Clarion Hotel® The Hub, Christmas gifts are being distributed to those who need them the most. "This is one of the season's highlights for many," says Siw Indsetviken from Gateteam Oslo.
"Merry Christmas to you (aged 2-4)," reads the soft present that Ingrid (4) places under the large Christmas tree in the reception area of Clarion Hotel® The Hub.
Little Ingrid has helped choose the gift, but she has no idea – and will never know – who will later unwrap it.
The 'Lonely Christmas Tree' is adorned with large gold baubles, teddy bears, and tinsel, and stands in a prominent position inside the doors of several Strawberry hotels.
Since 2012, the hotels have collected over 500,000 gifts for those who would otherwise not receive one.
Guests at the Sommerro and Amerikalinjen hotels have also placed countless gifts under the tree, which will soon find their way to unknown recipients.
Not everyone has a gift to unwrap
Together with her older sister, Charlie (9), Ingrid has been to the toy shop to buy toys. The children and their parents have previously discussed how not all children look forward to Christmas and don't share the same sense of anticipation around advent calendars, gingerbread baking, and decorating the tree for Christmas, and finding gifts beneath it from their wish lists.
Ingrid chose a stuffed dog, but when it's time to give it away, she hesitates a bit:
"I like the dog so much that I want it for myself," says the four-year-old timidly, glancing at the others.
"I don't think that's fair, since there are others who need it much more. Because when you don't get any gifts, it's nice to receive a stuffed animal for Christmas," insists her big brother Charlie.
"So that they will have something to play with?" asks the 4-year-old. She decides that the dog should get a new owner and asks where to place the gift.
For the two children, the meaning of Christmas is simple: they list good food, spending time with family, and opening presents. However, not everyone shares this experience.
Since 2001, the number of children growing up in poverty in Norway has increased annually. Back then, the figure was only 3.3%, but today it has risen to a staggering 11.7%, according to Statistics Norway. For several years, Strawberry has been taking its social responsibility by collecting gifts for those in need in the local community.
Do you want to help? Please note that the guidelines for our Lonely Christmas Tree campaign have been updated for security reasons as of 2023. Presents must be unwrapped and should be handed to a member of staff in the reception at one of our hotels. The hotel will wrap the presents and make sure they reach people in need on Christmas Eve.
"No one should be alone at Christmas. For over a decade, we have taken responsibility locally around our various hotels, giving back to those who live in the neighbourhood."
"We are completely overwhelmed by the number of hotel volunteers, guests who give gifts, and those who deliver to organisations and on the streets," says Marianne Høybakk, Assistant Hotel Director at Clarion Hotel® The Hub.
The hotel is located in the heart of Oslo, a stone's throw from Oslo Central Station and the bustling shopping street of Karl Johan. The Hub therefore collaborates with Gateteam Oslo, a local organisation.
In addition to gifts from the 'Lonely Christmas Tree', the hotel provides hot meals outside its doors twice a month.
"It's incredibly meaningful when we ourselves are so close to the situation. We can see the shortfall and the great need out there, right outside our own entrance," says Marianne.
For Gateteam Oslo, the help means a lot. For eleven years, the volunteer organisation has been out on the streets of the capital, distributing food, clothing, shoes, sleeping bags, backpacks, and hygiene items to the city's population of addicts.
"Having the opportunity to have the 'Lonely Christmas Tree,' where the gifts go to our friends on the streets, means a great deal," says Siw Indsetviken, Managing Director of Gateteam Oslo.
Helping Oslo's Homeless
Siw founded Gateteam Oslo in 2011 after losing her father to cancer. At that time, she had a rewarding job, but amidst her grief, she felt a strong need to do even more. After seeing how many people were cold and struggling on Oslo's streets, she packed two suitcases full of her father's clothing. The first time she distributed warm sweaters, shoes, and freshly brewed coffee to the homeless and addicts, she was terrified. Her fear quickly subsided as she was met with immense gratitude. Today, the street team consists of more than 10 volunteers and numerous contributors who distribute food and warm clothing every Wednesday.
But in December, it's not only the cold that takes its toll; it's also the feeling of loneliness and worry surrounding Christmas. A few days before Christmas Eve, there large bags filled with gifts wrapped in Christmas paper are placed outside Clarion Hotel® The Hub.
Bringing a tear to the eye
Gateteam Oslo is wearing safety vests and Santa hats. They examine down jackets, and hand out gifts suitable for both children and adults. Some people come for a chat, others for a warm hug.
Could Ingrid and Charlie's gifts already have been given to someone?
"The last distribution before Christmas is one of the season's highlights. They know they'll always get a gift on this day, and it's a big deal, whether it's homemade knitwear or something else."
"Many children write kind letters, which warm the heart and bring a tear to the eye," says Siw.
"You'll Get a Thick Jacket"
"From: me, To: someone in need. I don't know who you are, but you need it, so I want to give you this. Merry Christmas. (You'll get a thick jacket)," it says one of the cards Siw reads aloud – written in green marker with childlike spelling mistakes.
Three days before Christmas, the card ends up in the hands of someone who truly needs it. Outside The Hub, it's raining during the pre-Christmas days. Along with a Christmas greeting, this person also receives a warm jacket. At the same time, Ingrid and Charlie sit around the kitchen table at their home in Ekeberg, Oslo. Under their Christmas tree, the gifts from grandparents, uncles, and friends have piled up.
Ingrid has also been with her kindergarten to give gifts in central Oslo, so she now understands that not everyone is as fortunate as she is. She knows that not everyone feels the same tingling sensation in their body, as she describes the feeling she gets when Christmas approaches. She understands, yet kids will be kids, and she looks under the tree and asks:
"Do you think the green gift with the ribbon is a stuffed dog for me?"
FACTS: The Lonely Christmas Tree
Strawberry has collected 500,000 Christmas gifts since 2012
Gifts can be placed under the Christmas trees in our hotel lobbies
Gifts are donated to a local support organisation chosen by the hotel
These organisations have received gifts: The Salvation Army, Stiftelsen Sykehusbarn, The Red Cross, Gateteam Oslo, Barnas Stasjon