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Volunteer organizations see a heightened need for gift donations this year

Kiwanis toy drive volunteers (left to right) Jan Lyell, Segrid Thomas and J.R. Crawford visit the giving tree and collection bin located at Thriftway. - Natalie Johnson/Staff Photo
Kiwanis toy drive volunteers (left to right) Jan Lyell, Segrid Thomas and J.R. Crawford visit the giving tree and collection bin located at Thriftway.
— image credit: Natalie Johnson/Staff Photo

On some weekends during the holiday season, so many Islanders leave Vashon to shop for gifts that a long line stretches from the ferry dock, almost as if it were a peak commute hour.

Indeed, most Vashon families will wake Christmas morning to find a tree surrounded with treasures purchased off the Island. A growing number of Islanders, though, simply cannot afford to give their families gifts this season.

That’s where several Island organizations and businesses have stepped in.

With the community’s help, they work to assure that everyone on Vashon has at least one new present under their tree this year. And as the region’s economic woes linger, they continue to see a heightened need.

Joyce Smith, chair of the Vashon Kiwanis Club, said the organization’s annual toy drive served about 200 Island children last year, a 20 percent increase from the year before, and she expects it to provide gifts for even more children this year.

Despite its name, the Kiwanis’ toy drive collects gifts for children of all ages. Islanders can take tags off of giving trees at Island businesses, purchase the items requested by anonymous Island children and drop them off at a collection bin. In addition, Smith said, the Key Club at Vashon High School has purchased gifts for teens. McMurray Middle School has its own giving tree as well, so that middle schoolers who are interested can choose gifts for children their own age.

“It truly is a community affair,” Smith said.

The gifts that aren’t donated by Islanders are purchased with cash contributions to the fund. Kiwanis president J.R. Crawford said they haven’t received a large number donations so far, but she believes they will pick up as Christmas gets closer and the drive is more publicized. She hopes the Vashon community will support the drive, as she expects to get even more gift requests before the drive is over.

“Last year was the first real dip in the economy and we had a real increase last year,” she said. “This year seems to be keeping up with it.”

Smith said the Kiwanis receives letters of gratitude each year from grateful parents. Sometimes they explain their situations, sometimes they simply describe their children’s joy on Christmas morning.

Smith, a mother of six, said it is especially rewarding to hear the stories, as she feels she can relate to them.

“When I was younger and all my kids were small, I remember the struggle it was just to have a Christmas,” she said. “If we can take one thing off their minds besides how are we going to buy the groceries this month, I think its a wonderful thing to do for them.”

Vashon’s chapter of the Society St. Vincent de Paul, too, receives letters each year from families it helps at Christmastime. The Catholic organization, which has meet underprivileged Islanders’ basic needs year round since 1964, has a similar gift tree at St. John Vianney Catholic Church.

Nina LaSalle, St. Vincent de Paul’s president, said the group focuses on children’s gifts at Christmas but also tries to see that parents get something, too. Gift tags are for entire families rather than individual children.

“(The parents) are very, very selfless,” she said. “We always encourage them to tell us what they would like.”

LaSalle said the group usually provides gifts for 20 to 25 families. “I think it might be more this year because of the economy,” she added.

In a truly homegrown effort, three Island businesses have joined forces for the past eight years to do something special for children in need. Vashon Electric, Ed Palmer Construction and Baron Construction will purchase about 20 bicycles this season, giving them to parents who apply for the bikes for their children.

Kelly Svarthumle, owner of Vashon Electric, said that unlike other organizations, the businesses aren’t interested in donations from the community.

“Our businesses all chip in, and we take care of it,” he said.

And though Svarthumle can’t remember exactly why they started the program, he said the business owners simply love making children happy at Christmastime. It’s nice to consider that several Vashon children will “have something as nice as a bike and … have it new,” he said. “That means a lot to a kid.”

Trees with tags for the Kiwanis toy drive are located at Thriftway, True Value, Island Lumber, Vashon Market and Movie Magic. Collection bins for unwrapped, marked gifts will be at several business until Dec. 18.

Islanders can make cash donations for the toy drive by sending a check to Kiwanas, P.O. Box 262, Vashon, 98070.

Kiwanas will take applications for gifts until Dec. 17.

Those interested in receiving a bike for their child should mail their request to Bikes for Kids, P.O. Box 2936, Vashon, 98070. The deadline is Dec. 15.

For more information about the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, call St. John Vianney Catholic Church at 567-4149.

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