The Holiday House elves are hard at work once again to spread holiday joy to island children in need.
The annual Holiday House project, sponsored by the Island County Readiness To Learn Foundation, opens its doors for shoppers on Dec. 11.
“It’s been part of the community for several seasons,” said Ann Johnson, Readiness to Learn training and development facilitator. “This year we will do our usual holiday store again. It’s a shopping experience for parents who may not be able to give their children the Christmas experience any other way.”
Holiday House provides gifts for children of families struggling to meet basic needs. Set up like a store, it allows families to shop with dignity for presents and wrap items their children want and need, Johnson said.
“What we want is for all families to know how wonderful it feels for a child to have that special surprise and have that one perfect thing that they wanted for Christmas,” she said.
This year the store will be located at the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation building on Maxwelton Road in Langley instead of the primary school campus. Shopping is done by appointment only. There are eligibility guidelines for families, but all inquiries will be treated confidentially and the shopping can be done in a confidential atmosphere.
The project is designed to bring the happiness of the holidays into the lives of children whose families are struggling financially, and may not have the means to provide presents for their kids during the winter holidays.
Johnson said the program makes an impact far beyond just giving a present to a child.
“A 5-year-old boy and his mom came into the Family Resource Center early this week. They have been participants in Readiness To Learn programs for several years, and have given as well as received over the years during this child’s lifetime,” Johnson said. “He and his mom were delivering a couple of fun new items to the Holiday House. One thing was a pair of really cool racecar footie pajamas. The little boy wanted us to make sure that the pajamas got used as a present for Holiday House, and assured us that they did not fit him. We promised him that they would go to a loving home,” she said.
Currently, countless volunteers are in the process of getting the store ready by sorting and procuring gifts. The Holiday House crew asks that people donate new, unwrapped gifts. Monetary contributions are also welcome.
Community donations of money and gifts are used to stock the store shelves with quality items, and volunteers from all across Whidbey Island donate time and expertise. Johnson said about 60 to 70 volunteers will work tirelessly to pull off the project and watching their enthusiasm is inspiring year after year. Yet, more volunteers are always welcome.
Mary Green, a Readiness to Learn board member and volunteer, has been volunteering for the project since 2007. Her favorite aspect is being part of providing struggling families with a sense of normalcy during the holidays, she said.
“These people make my Christmas,” she said. “The stories are different in every house. The situations are all different.”
The Holiday House still needs more presents for children ranging from infant-age through high school grads.
“We’re always looking for gifts for teenagers. They are hard to buy for. But dolls and trucks are always in high demand,” Johnson said.
“The most popular things you see on the shelves are the things these children wish for as well,” she added. “We all remember how special Christmas morning was when you found the one thing that you had hoped for under the tree,” she said.
Clothes, shoes and sleepwear are welcome donations as well.
Readiness to Learn is partnering with Toys for Tots for the project. Donations can be dropped into Toys for Tots drop boxes or can be delivered to the Family Resource Center on Maxwelton Road in Langley.
Johnson said a mother, who will be participating at Holiday House as both a recipient and a volunteer, made a great point during a conversation among other volunteers and staff recently.
“Not only do parents have choice over what to get their children, but they can also help their little ones learn the joy of giving,” Johnson said.
There is no way this family could afford to purchase gifts for each child in their very large family, and they are grateful to Holiday House for the assistance.
“One toy, purchased lovingly by a family together to put into a Holiday House drop box, is affordable and teaches a philanthropic lesson to those very same kids,” Johnson said.
For details, call 221-0484 or visit rtlearnfoundation.org.