Thursday, January 5, 2012

Washington Trip Part 3--Christmas Fund Events

Marianne's Christmas cactus in full bloom in the kitchen
For many years Marianne and the family have been involved in the Skagit Valley Christmas Fund.  Marianne is on the board of directors so spends a lot of time on this project.  She has recruited me to help the last 2 years and it is a fun job.  This group gathers donations of toys, money and other items for children and young people for Christmas presents.  They advertise for families in need to sign up for help and have them call to register.

A view of part of the gifts that have been sorted.
   Meanwhile as the toys come into this big warehouse building at the fairgrounds the toys have to be sorted into age and gender appropriate sections.  Many of the toys come from Toys for Tots but also from many other generous donators.  When families call to register they are assigned a day and time to come pick up their gifts.  Then on a Saturday before Christmas there is a big Christmas party for the families.  As you can see there is a lot of work to be done and it involves a lot of volunteers!  Last year this fund served over 2000 families and over 5000 children!

Dolls for the little girls.
Last year I helped sort toys and was amazed at all the things that were donated but the people in charge were worried about how few things they had compared to years before.  This year I again got to help sort for an afternoon and there was even less but as you can see in the pictures, there is still a lot.
Gifts for teens.  Notice all the Snuggies!
  Part of the trouble is the poor economy in this part of Washington.  Less donations and more families in need equals smaller gift packages each year.   Meanwhile while I was sorting gifts there was a group of people taking phone registrations for families in English and Spanish.
Another view of the many gifts that have been donated.
Last year we came home before the real work started but we were there this year! Darcy, Brendin, Marianne and I all spent two evenings helping to bag the gifts for the families.  This is a very structured assembly line undertaking.  Labels are printed with the family number (no names allowed) and the gender and age of each child.  These are stuck on a big black garbage bag and then someone takes around the bag and places one toy or gift for each child in the bag.  They also had a large stash of caps, mittens, and scarves that ladies groups knit all year.

A table of games for the family
  The gift gatherers are allowed to place one item from this stash per child in the bag.  (these ran out about half way through the first night we were there.) and then one item from the stocking stuffer area per kid.

The gifts are bagged and ready to distribute.
   I was on the garbage bag prep line.  We shook out the garbage bags and placed the labels on them and then handed them to the bag fillers.  This process takes 3  two hour evenings plus one afternoon!  We worked the last 2 nights.  It is really hard not to throw in a couple extra things like they used to be able to do but it has to be strict so they don't run out of gifts.

  The first night I worked it was High School volunteer night.  It was very interesting because the FCCLA from Mount Vernon HS were there and I got to visit with some of the girls.  Darcy's Jr. ROTC also volunteered that night.  It was a lot of work but I met and got to visit with a few really cool kids and on the second night some great volunteers as we shook out the bags.  It was good exercise too.
Brendin celebrates another night of completed bagging.
A week or so later it was time to distribute the gifts to the families.  This is another very structured process.  Each family has a time to come in.  This goes on for 4 hours on two different nights.  We were signed up for the second night so I figured all the bags would be gone.  Brendin was assigned to assist with parking cars, Darcy stayed home because he had an early morning competition the next morning, Marianne worked on a computer and I got to help handing out the books.

The book area is getting filled up on sorting day!
 Each family received their bag of gifts and a voucher to buy groceries and then they got to choose one book per child before leaving.  The book area was set up with tables full of books for age groups.  There were lots of books--mostly from Scholastic Books(boxes of the same book in some cases).  I was supposed to monitor how many books they were taking and just keep the tables replenished.  For some kids it was like going to the library and they were collecting a whole pile of books and for others we tried to make them take one book!  We had a table with books in Spanish too but it didn't have as big a variety as the other tables and the infants table only had paperback books which many parents felt their child would just rip up but that was the only choice they had.  We worked 4 hours straight.  One husband and wife that were helping in the book place were all dressed up and had brought a large basket with suckers and candy canes to give each child as they left.  They worked for two hours each day.  They told me they had done this every year for many years.  At the end of this night there were still probably 50 or so bags left.  I guess some families arrange for late pick up during that last week before Christmas and collect them from the office.

Bob and I had to leave before the final event, the Christmas party.  They have cookies and punch, music and I think Santa is there too.  Anyway the whole thing is a huge undertaking with a lot of donations and volunteer work!  I believe there were even more families and children this year than last!

1 comment: