What has made this year frustrating for Caroline Kwon is that almost everything seems to be out of her control.
Whether it was her junior lacrosse season being canceled, college courses moving online at the Naval Academy, or the safety of friends and family in relation to the coronavirus — she couldn’t control any of it.
This holiday season, however, a project that helped hundreds of kids in the Annapolis area was in her control. Kwon, a midshipman first class and captain on the Navy women’s lacrosse team, spearheaded 6th Company’s annual Giving Tree holiday gift drive that led to 500 kids in the Annapolis area receiving presents.
“As a brigade, we saw a lot of our normal experiences interrupted and halted this year and this semester,” said Kwon, a 2017 Glenelg High School graduate. “It felt like a lot of things weren’t in our control. This was something that we could really take charge of and something we could control. We could put all our effort and time into this and help these families in need during the holiday season.”
This is the 25th year for the Giving Tree drive, which is signified with a Christmas tree in the Bancroft Hall rotunda. The gifts are donated every year to the Salvation Army of Annapolis, which will distribute gifts to more than 2,000 children this December.
“It’s astronomical the amount they help,” said Capt. Emily Vincent, an officer for the Salvation Army. “They help every year. It’s such a beautiful thing. It’s a wonderful legacy they have with helping children.”
Kwon, 21, is in 6th Company and has participated in the campuswide gift drive in the past. What makes this initiative “special,” Kwon believes, is that it’s not just 6th Company or midshipmen across campus who participate, but also faculty and staff.
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“This would not be possible without the help of the whole company and the whole campus,” she said.
While the end result of gifts for 500 Annapolis-area children was “outstanding,” Kwon added that the annual gift drive was much different due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Gifts were purchased for the kids online and sent to the Salvation Army instead of being delivered in person. And with significantly less foot traffic in Bancroft Hall this year, Kwon and her fellow 6th Company midshipmen were persistent with emails and posters reminding people to participate.
Despite the challenges, Kwon knows many families in the community are in more need this holiday season than ever due to the pandemic.
“Families and people who normally need our help with the gift drive are even more impacted with COVID and the current circumstances,” Kwon said. “It’s a great feeling to be able to help them during such a difficult time.”
The Giving Tree, Kwon said, shows her and her fellow midshipmen the impact they can have on their local community.
“This is just really special,” she said. “Every year we’re reminded of how much we’re able to contribute and how much we can help. We sign up for this long-term commitment at the Naval Academy, but events like these are instant ways for us to give back and see an immediate impact.”