South Whidbey's Holiday House fills the gift gap for families in need

Holiday House volunteer Joan Smith displays a selection of the latest games available as gifts for those who need them. “It’s just wonderful,” she said of the program.  - Roy Jacobson / The Record
Holiday House volunteer Joan Smith displays a selection of the latest games available as gifts for those who need them. “It’s just wonderful,” she said of the program.
— image credit: Roy Jacobson / The Record

Holiday House is open for business again this year, pledging to help everyone who shows up have a pleasant season despite the economic woes.

A program of the nonprofit Island County Readiness to Learn Foundation and the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve’s Toys for Tots program, the all-volunteer Holiday House provides free toys and gifts for families who may not be able to get them any other way.

Last year, the program expected to serve 200 families in the South End, and ended up providing gifts to 350. Distribution in Coupeville brought the total to more than 500 families, Cavender said.

“We anticipate serving a lot more families this year, thanks to the economy,” Lori Cavender of Langley, Holiday House coordinator, said Thursday.

In its sixth year, Holiday House is located at the former South Whidbey Primary School at

5476 Maxwelton Road. It opened Friday, and its hours through next week will be 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today, and Monday through Friday.

Holiday House will be closed next Saturday, but will reopen on Monday if demand and inventory hold up.

“If we don’t get all the families, we’ll arrange for them to come in,” Cavender said.

At Holiday House, qualified families make an appointment, during which they can stroll among shelves stacked with hundreds of new toys in their original packaging.

Families can select a specified number of items suitable for infants through 18-year-olds, and enjoy a cookie and a cup of coffee, cocoa or hot cider while volunteers gift-wrap their choices.

Holiday wrapping paper also is available to take home, as are Christmas stockings made by Holiday House volunteers, Cavender said.

The latest popular toys, games, sports bags, items of clothing and stocking stuffers are available this year, thanks to donations collected by Toys for Tots, and from individuals who dropped off items or contributed money.

And there are plenty of books for all ages.

“We’re obviously trying to promote reading,” Cavender said.

She’s also trying to promote quality family time, she added, by encouraging selection from a wide range of the latest and most popular games.

“We want families to share the experience of sitting around the table, turning off the TV and having good family fun,” she said.

More than 60 volunteers, including students and members of local civic, social and religious organizations, take part in Holiday House, Cavender said.

“This is definitely a community program,” she said.

Joan Smith of Clinton is a Holiday House volunteer who got in on the ground floor.

“I’ve been doing this since day one,” Smith said, her felt reindeer antlers wriggling on top of her head as she straightened a display of games. “It’s just wonderful.”

Cavender said it’s not too late to donate new toys, money or time to Holiday House. She said that given the economy, donations are down a little this year, while the number of families needing help is up.

“But if everyone donated one gift each, we could serve all the families on the island,” she said.

For information, to donate or to make an appointment, call the Holiday House hotline at 221-6808, ext. 4322.

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