Through donations, two community organizations are going the extra mile to brighten the holidays for those in need.
As it has for many years, the South Whidbey community is doing what it can to ensure every child receives a toy on Christmas and that families don’t go hungry.
More than 1,000 toys were donated to Col. Richard “Buck” Francisco Marine Corps League Detachment No. 1451 since mid-November. The charity also raised about $21,000.
The toys, ranging from electronics to playing cards, were collected in boxes placed by the detachment outside of businesses and church from Greenbank to Clinton as part of its Toys for Tots program.
The toys are delivered to Holiday House, a hub that provides free gifts for families struggling through financial hardships, and The Fishin’ Club, which also distributes the toys and runs an annual food drive.
“The community has really turned out for us,” said Bayview resident Frank Thornton, 82, a member of the detachment.
The Fishin’ Club raised about $1,500 from businesses, churches and club members. The funds will feed about 13 families in need. Members of the club, like Freeland resident Ron Whitman, make the deliveries. They’ll typically purchase about $150 worth of groceries for each family, which are identified with the help of churches and the South Whidbey School District, and bring the food to the families’ doorstep.
Since the club began partnering with the Marine Corps detachment two years ago, they also bring toys with them.
“I think we’re going to have 16 or 17 bikes that Toys for Toys are giving us, so that’s pretty huge,” Whitman said. “We’ve gotten wonderful feedback. It’s a pretty big thing for us as a club. And we like to give back to the community.”
Sometimes the simplest commodities carry the most impact, Whitman said. He remembers making a delivery to a house and seeing a little boy light up at the sight of a jar of peanut butter.
“When I walked out of there I was pretty choked up,” Whitman said. “My family has always had peanut butter on the shelf. And this was a present for him.”
“We have an opportunity to give back and we’re glad to do it,” he added.
Useless Bay resident Scott Waltenbaugh, a member of the club, and his wife Patty took over the food drive about six years ago when it delivered to only about a half dozen families. Since then, they’ve been able to add more families to their delivery lists.
Waltenbaugh was hospitalized in Everett this past summer for chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, a chronic form of the autoimmune and neuromuscular disorder known as Guillain-Barre.
He handed the reins of the food and toy drive over to Whitman.
Speaking from his hospital bed in Everett, Waltenbaugh said he’s proud to see what the drive has evolved into.
“It’s become really fulfilling,” Waltenbaugh said. “Everyone is happy to do it. It’s a community project.”
Though there is no official name for the Christmas food and toy drive, Whitman has affectionately named it, “A Time for Sharing.”
Kevin Lungren, another member of The Fishin’ Club, said he’s awed by the generosity of the community.
“Some give from abundance, and others from scarcity,” Lungren wrote in an email. “There are so many families in our community that can use a little lift during the Christmas season, and we want them to know our community cares about them.”
Holiday House, run by the Readiness To Learn Foundation, opened its doors to families on Monday, Dec. 11 and will run through Dec. 19. Holiday House is operating out of Langley Middle School, also known as the South Whidbey Community Center, after previously being held at the Island County Fairgrounds.
Gail LaVassar, executive director of the foundation, said they expect close to 200 families and 312 children will access the store.
“Holiday House provides an opportunity for parents who do not have enough income to purchase Christmas gifts for their children and still be able to pay their bills for basic needs such as housing, utilities, transportation, food and clothing,” LaVassar said. “The store environment gives parents the ability to choose what gifts they would like to give to their children.”
Around 50 volunteers will help operate it, though more help is needed. More families can also sign up through Monday, Dec. 18.