BY MICHAELA MARX WHEATLEY
Whidbey Life Magazine contributor
Children may be making their lists – checking them twice – and then adding another Furby. But an important part of the holiday season is charitable giving.
“Giving or volunteering is a great way to make a meaningful, tangible difference within our local community,” said Patti Carroll of Kids First, an organization supporting foster kids and their foster families. “It is a fantastic way to teach children the value of helping others; to teach them, – no matter the age – the joy of giving from the heart. The gift of giving can become a family tradition, a way to build family memories for years to come,” Carroll added.
Here on Whidbey, there are many people who choose to share time or money with nonprofit organizations from food banks and youth organizations to arts and theater groups.
The Holiday House sponsored by the Readiness to Learn Foundation is an island-wide project that aims to make sure every kid on the island will have a merry Christmas.
Holiday House is a holiday gift assistance program, with locations on South and North Whidbey that is set up like a store, allowing income-eligible families to shop for items on their children’s Santa list.
Toys, volunteers and cash donations are needed, said RTL executive director Gail LaVassar.
“The money is used to help fill the gaps in our inventory of donated toys,” she said. “We are also seeking volunteers who are able sort toys and help parents with wrapping the gifts they choose for their children.”
LaVassar said the volunteer experience is rewarding.
“Many of our volunteers have the opportunity to meet the families. They have told us that being witness to the joy on parents’ faces when realize they can make their children’s Christmas dreams come true is the best way to start their own holiday experience,” she said.
“The Christmas spirit at Holiday House is contagious,” LaVassar added. “Volunteers often arrive dressed in red and green or wearing Santa hats. Their enthusiasm and generosity spreads to their friends and neighbors. Last year, one volunteer noticed a need for Christmas stockings and this year she showed up with many hand-made, beautiful stockings.”
New unwrapped toys can be left at drop boxes located at businesses and churches throughout the Whidbey community. Donations can be mailed to P.O. Box 346, Langley WA 98260. For information, or to inquire about a shopping appointment call 360-221-6808 ext. 4322 for South Whidbey or 360-678-4551 at ext. 236 for Coupeville and north.
On South Whidbey, a special tree is spreading joy through Dec. 31 at the Bayview Cash Store. In its ninth year, the Giving Tree is decorated with handcrafted ornaments made by the staff and volunteers of local non-profit organizations. The groups work on issues ranging from affordable housing to resources for animals, food assistance to end-of-life care. A suggested minimum donation is set by each organization and all proceeds from the purchase of ornaments go back to the organization. Information on each charity is available to take away.
The Giving Tree is sponsored by Goosefoot, a non-profit organization that brings neighbors together to build a sense of place and community, to preserve rural traditions, to enhance local commerce and to help create a healthy, sustainable future for South Whidbey Island. Call 360-321-4145 for further information. Bayview Corner Cash Store is located at 5603 Bayview Road, off Highway 525.
Causes to support
Whidbey Island is home to countless non-profits. The holiday time is vital to reaching their fundraising goals, but even small gestures such as dropping off food or volunteering a few hours will make a difference. This is just a brief selection of the many worthy causes to support on the island.
Food banks are having a particularly busy time during the holidays. In fact, South Whidbey’s Good Cheer Food Bank grew out of a holiday project when church volunteers brought toys and some food to people in need.
To support the cause you can donate food items or money to Good Cheer, where the food bank team can turn every dollar in about 10 times the value in food. This time of the year, many organizations hold food or fund drives for the food bank, including Langley merchants who are collection cash to help by holiday food for families in need.
Volunteers are also always needed to sort, stack shelves or fulfill one of the hundreds of jobs that it takes to run the food bank.
For more information, call 360-221-6494.
North Whidbey’s food bank the North Whidbey Help House is also in need of donations, volunteers and food items. For more information, contact 360-675-0681.
Organizations like or Helping Hand or Friends of Friends help fill gaps beyond food.
“The holidays can bring additional stress to those with fragile health issues,” said Suzanne Schlicke, president of Friends of Friends Medical Support Fund
Friends of Friends is a community-supported fund offering financial help to South Whidbey residents with medically-related expenses they cannot afford to pay. The service is available throughout the season to help anyone in need of assistance with their medical expenses. Donations may be sent directly to Friends of Friends, PO Box 812, Langley Washington 98260 or may be made online at our website, www.fofmedicalsupportfund.org. Volunteers are always needed during fundraising events. If you would like to volunteer, call 360-221-4535.
Or you could use your own special ideas and talents to raise money; designate the proceeds from an event you create, arrange for a special offering at church, make a class project, put on a bake sale, or anything else you can imagine. There are also many youth organizations that could use the boost.
“There are many ways that families can partner with Kids First during the holiday season: baking foods and cookies for the annual Holiday Celebration; volunteering to lend a hand, donating holiday gifts or funds to help purchase gifts,” Carroll said, who helps run the organization that supports foster children.
There are many ways to make a difference in the lives of children in- care all year long, she added. For a list of local opportunities, go to www.kidsfirst-ic.org.
Currently, Kids First has joined fellow nonprofits to make the ornaments that are decorating the Giving Tree at the Bayview Cash Store. These ornaments are available for purchase and proceeds will help to meet the unfulfilled needs of local children who are in foster care.
The Kids First team also strives to ensure that every local child who is in foster care will receive a gift at holiday time.
“Our biggest challenge is in anticipating the number of children who will be out of their homes -of origin and in foster- care at holiday time,” Carroll said. “This number is ever-changing as are the ages and genders of the children. In addition, we know there will be children who enter foster care during the weeks just prior to holidays. In these ways it is challenging to ensure that each child receives an age/gender appropriate gift.”
At this time, their biggest need is for duffle bags to be given to children as they first enter foster care. This need is not unique to holiday season, rather it is a constant. Carroll said when a child is removed from home; it is without notice to the child. The child enters foster care with the clothes that they on their back and any other belongings are placed in a plastic bag that resembles a garbage bag.
“A duffle bag can be packed with toiletries and blankets and s something that a child can call their own,” she said.
For more information, call 360-639-4966.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Island County just wrapped up its annual holiday fundraiser, the Festival of Trees. However, end of year donations are always welcome, and so are new volunteers. The mentoring agency pairs volunteer mentors with at-risk youth. For more information go to www.bbbsislandcounty.org or call 360-279-0644.
Ryan’s House of Youth continues to raise money to build a youth shelter on South Whidbey. However, there are always practical items that youths in the program need including sleeping bags, toiletry items and more. For more information, call 206- 356-2405.
Giving to the arts
There are also a number of nonprofits which support the arts, such as Whidbey Island Arts Council, Whidbey Children’s Theater, Whidbey Island Dance Theater and Whidbey Island Center for the Arts. This magazine is also a nonprofit project and accepts donations at Whidbey Life Magazine donations through its fiscal agent, Fractured Atlas. Also consider donating to your local schools’ arts program and foundations, and band programs.
Contributions are deductible for the year in which they are made. Thus, donations charged to a credit card before the end of 2012 count for 2012. This is true even if the credit card bill isn’t paid until 2013. Also, checks count for 2012 as long as they are mailed and cleared in 2012.
The gift of time
No matter if you help stock shelves at the food bank, take a homeless dog for a walk or help cleaning up a park, the gift of time is invaluable to the many volunteer organizations on the island. The holidays are a good time to start but it takes 365 days a year to run these wonderful organizations. Consider making it a new year’s resolution to give a year of volunteer time to your favorite organization.
Michaela Marx Wheatley is a freelance journalist who has worked as a reporter/writer in the U.S. and her native Germany. She can be reached at email@example.com.