In 1990, Reporter staff writer Brian Hamlin returned from an assignment at Christmastime and told then-Features Editor Mary Lou Wilson about a family living in a trailer without heat. Mrs. Wilson and Mr. Hamlin took up an office collection to restore the heat and buy the family some warm clothes. The following year, Mrs. Wilson began asking social services agencies for the names of those in need. Staff writers wrote about those needs and donations from the public were solicited. The Giving Tree was born.
Mrs. Wilson headed the project until her death in 2008. That year, as a tribute to her, the project was renamed The Mary Lou Wilson Memorial Giving Tree. Mr. Hamlin continued to support the project until his death in April 2011.