It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, thanks to Holiday House

Volunteers Emily Campbell (left), Laura Hernandez and Joanie Smith pause amid the merchandise at Holiday House. The program, at South Whidbey Primary School this year, provides free holiday toys for families who can’t afford to buy them. - Roy Jacobson / The Record
Volunteers Emily Campbell (left), Laura Hernandez and Joanie Smith pause amid the merchandise at Holiday House. The program, at South Whidbey Primary School this year, provides free holiday toys for families who can’t afford to buy them.
— image credit: Roy Jacobson / The Record

Holiday House is the gift shop that keeps on giving all this week, thanks to the nonprofit Island County Readiness to Learn Foundation and the Marine Corps Reserve’s Toys for Tots program.

For five years, Holiday House has provided free toys for families who may not be able to get them any other way. This year the program expects to assist more than 200 households in the South End.

“We are just here to help them have a happy holiday,” said Lori Cavender of Langley, Holiday House coordinator. “I’m glad we can be here for these families.”

And although Readiness to Learn and the Marines are in the forefront, Holiday House couldn’t be accomplished without time and effort provided by the South End’s many businesses, churches and service organizations, Cavender said.

“They’re just a huge piece,” she said. “This truly is a community event.”

This year’s Holiday House is set up in the now-vacant South Whidbey Primary School in Langley. The “store” is in two large rooms, with another two rooms nearby being used as sorting areas.

Qualified families make an appointment, during which they can push a shopping cart donated by Goose Grocers in Bayview between the aisles stacked with hundreds of new toys in their original packaging.

Families can select a specified number of items, 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.

“They’re quite amazed when they come in and see the store,” she said of the participating families. “It’s definitely a fun place to shop.”

Holiday House is open all this week from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and for a few hours Saturday morning, Cavender said. The primary school is at 5476 Maxwelton Road.

There are new items suitable for everyone from infants through 18-year-olds. There are toys, board games, electronics, Barbie dolls and make-up kits.

“You name it,” Cavender said. “We’ve got every toy under the sun.”

She said Monday that 180 families have made appointments to shop so far, and more are expected before week’s end. She said more than 60 volunteers of all ages have taken part so far this year.

One is Kathy Campbell of Langley, who is volunteering at Holiday House for the first time.

“It’s fun,” she said. “I can envision their happy faces on Christmas morning.”

Campbell’s daughter Emily, 16, a home-schooler, was busy arranging the Holiday House display tables on Monday.

“I think it’s amazing,” she said of the program. “We participated in this when we were younger. I’ll probably volunteer next year, too.”

Laura Hernandez, 16, also of Langley, has been volunteering at Holiday House since she was in the sixth grade.

“This is a really cool thing,” she said. “It gets pretty busy at the end, but it’s definitely worth it.”

Toys were donated by businesses, organizations and individuals from throughout Whidbey Island. Others were purchased with cash donations. Some people bought toys on-line, and had them sent directly to Holiday House.

Most of the items were collected and distributed by the local branch of the Marine Reserve’s Toys for Tots Foundation.

Cavender said that several families have taken part in Holiday House in the past, but others are new this year.

“The economy is making a lot of people struggle,” Cavender said. “Times are just tough for a lot of people.”

Veteran volunteer Joanie Smith has helped with the program since it began five years ago.

“It’s an answer to a prayer,” she said of Holiday House. She wore a jaunty Santa hat as she bustled about straightening packages of toys on the display tables. “It’s what Christmas is all about,” she said.

Cavender said it’s not too late to donate new toys, money or time to Holiday House.

For information, call the Holiday House hotline at 221-6808, ext. 4322.

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