Studying these cells could lead to new treatments for diseases ranging from gastrointestinal disease to diabetes.
This holiday season, an MIT student and staff member are attempting to tickle the fancies of 1,500 children they've never met.
They're running the campus Giving Tree program, which matches members of the MIT community with the names and holiday wish lists of young children from needy families in Cambridge and Boston. These children, who range in age from infancy to six years old, are not likely to receive gifts this holiday season without the help of people like Lauren Erb, a sophomore in mathematics, and HeatherTrickett, project coordinator at the Public Service Center (PSC), who have jointly coordinated this year's Giving Tree.
The Giving Tree will provide wrapped holiday gifts costing $5 to $10 each to children in 12 different shelters, hospitals and day care centers. Many of the children made specific gift requests.
"Some of them ask for socks, some ask for Nintendo. One nine-year-old boy said it was his first year in foster care and he didn't want to ask for too much, so he just asked for a small box of candy," said Ms. Erb.
So far the Giving Tree has collected enough gifts or money to purchase gifts for about 1,100 boys and girls. They're hoping to collect another 400 gifts from Institute members before 5pm on Monday, Dec. 14, when their toy drive ends.
Members of the community who would like to participate by donating money or a gift, wrapping paper, ribbon or tape are encouraged to contact Ms. Erb at firstname.lastname@example.org or Ms. Trickett at email@example.com or x3-0742 right away. Those who wish to purchase gifts will be given the name, age and sex--or specific gift request--of a child. People who wish to make monetary or wrapping paper donations may bring those directly to the PSC in Rm W20-311.
On Friday, Dec. 11, the Giving Tree will hold a wrapping party from 2-5pm in Rm W20-491. All members of the community are invited to drop by and wrap gifts.
The Giving Tree has been jointly sponsored by the MIT Panhellenic Association and the PSC since 1992. The community service chair of the Panhellenic Association (that's Ms. Erb this year) coordinates the program with the help of the PSC project coordinator (Ms. Trickett). Ms. Erb works with the leaders of living groups, fraternities, sororities and dormitories to help them participate. Ms. Trickett works the faculty/staff side of the program.
"This is a nice job because you help children who wouldn't receive anything otherwise," said Ms. Erb, who is putting long hours into the project despite the end-of-term time crunch. "You actually make a difference. It's very satisfying."
"The success of this program is a result of the overwhelming generosity of the individuals and groups who give gifts and make monetary donations," said Ms. Trickett. "Responding to the children's specific gift requests makes the gift-giving process more personalized and rewarding for all those involved."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 9, 1998.