Whenever the holiday season rolls around, Holiday House is there to lend a helping hand.
This year is no exception.
The Readiness to Learn Foundation’s 12th annual Holiday House event is 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Dec. 14 through Dec. 19 in the Coffman Building at the Island County Fairgrounds.
The event was created to provide free gifts for kids and teens whose families are struggling financially. Families that were pre-screened will have a chance to peruse aisles stocked full of gifts, including Star Wars themed toys, Seattle Seahawks accessories, art supplies and more. Parents are given 30 minutes to shop at a scheduled time. The gift limit is three items per child.
Last year, Holiday House assisted over 170 families. The goal, said Readiness to Learn Executive Director Gail LaVassar, is to give all children the experience of a joyful Christmas and parents the ability to choose gifts for their children.
“Besides creating a Christmas where they have a joy of giving and the children receive, it allows parents to think about their resources and spend it on rent or utilities or a basic need instead of having that tug, like, ‘Do I let my lights go out because I want to give the kids a nice Christmas?’ ” LaVassar said.
Aisles will be marked with signs to indicate which items can be found where. Shopping carts will also be provided.
The intent, said LaVassar, is to make the experience as similar to a real-life store as possible. A surplus inventory is also available near the back of the building to provide a large variety of selections.
A hospitality area will also be available near the entrance of the building, where foods and snacks are offered.
The event, which began in 2003, is funded by donations, LaVassar said.
“It’s really grass roots,” she said. “It’s so sustainable and the community is always generous.”
“This wouldn’t happen without the generosity of the community,” she added. “We lead it and manage it but it’s a community endeavor all the way around.”
The foundation receives donations both in the form of gifts and money. In all, the foundation received $6,500 in financial donations this year for the event, which were used to purchase toys that were not donated or were specifically asked for by participating families.
LaVassar said the organzation receives help from over 100 volunteers; more 100 students from local schools have also lent a hand. Sixth-grade students from Langley Middle School decorated the interior of the building on Wednesday with Christmas-themed wall posters, while members of South Whidbey High School’s National Honor Society helped decorate Christmas trees and hung lights.
Senior Macey Bishop volunteered for the event last year and was joined by fellow seniors Jake Papritz, Hailey Simchuk, Anna Lynch, and junior Carmen Warwick on Wednesday. Bishop said she witnessed firsthand the positive impact the event had on less fortunate families during the holidays.
“I loved it. Especially because I had never heard of a community doing something like this before, so when I first came it was like the coolest thing ever, especially because the parents can feel like they are going out and getting presents for their kids,” Bishop said.
“With the materialism of Christmas and everything, it was just a different outlook on it because they were so grateful for it,” she added.
LaVassar said the foundation was thankful for the many individuals, organizations and businesses that helped raise money for Holiday House, such as the Island Athletic Club, Georgia Gerber, Langley United Methodist Church, Nichols Brothers and The Clyde Theater.
Holiday House has the opportunity to improve with each year it runs. LaVassar said participating parents often volunteer and help with other Readiness to Learn programs. The families will give feedback and let them know what was useful and what wasn’t.
“It’s just part of the long-term goal for families that are trying to get out of poverty and be apart of the community and have a place to belong and have Christmas gifts like anybody else does and pay their bills,” Lavassar said.
Organizers are concerned with having fewer toys as compared to previous years. The foundation will accept donations throughout the week. Those interested may bring gifts, toys, or financial donations to the Coffman Building, from 9 to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Donations can also be mailed to Readiness to Learn Foundation at P.O. Box 280, Langley, or submitted online at their website at www.readinesstolearn.org.