Volunteers were hard at work this week decorating and organizing Santa’s bounty for the annual Holiday House giving program, which opens Saturday.
Having served 575 children in Coupeville and Oak Harbor in 2015, organizers are anticipating the same level of need, if not more, and the more community support the better.
“It has historically been the numbers have grown a little each year,” said organizer Vivian Rogers Decker, student and family support specialist for the Oak Harbor School District.
In its 12th year, Holiday House offers an opportunity for parents to come into a store-like environment and choose gifts for their children.
“It’s nice for the parent to be able to go shopping for their kids,” said volunteer Christina Wertz, a Coupeville resident and volunteer. “They know best what they’re going to like.”
Presents are identified by different levels based on value: bronze are less than $10, silver are less than $20 and gold are more than $20.
Each child gets one gold, one silver and two bronze presents, a stocking and 10 stocking stuffers, which are valued at $1.
To participate in the program, families must go through an application process provided by school counselor’s at each Oak Harbor school.
In Coupeville, applications can be picked up at the elementary school front office.
The first set of applications were picked up this week, but Holiday House will be taking applications through Dec. 21, Rogers Decker said.
The program is run mostly with volunteer support through the island-wide Readiness to Learn organization and in partnership with school districts on the island. There are locaions on South and North Whidbey.
In 2015, of the 224 families served by the North Whidbey location, 57 came from Coupeville.
“Coupeville would be lost without Holiday House,” Wertz said. “(And) it’s not just income based.”
“It could be situations, like if someone had a lot of medical bills that year.”
Wertz herself has used the program and volunteers each year as a way to give back to a program that has helped her.
It takes around 100 volunteers to run the program each year, Rogers Decker said.
Families that utilize the program schedule an appointment to shop. At that appointment, there are volunteer greeters, personal shoppers and gift wrappers. There are also volunteers who are constantly handling donations, restocking shelves and handling operations.
“We’re always looking for more volunteers,” Rogers Decker said.
Each year, Holiday House moved locations to a space that was provided free of charge. Spaces used for the program are generally out of the way and not retail storefronts. Because of how the program is set up, they don’t want to confuse anyone, Decker said.
In its first year, Holiday House operated out of Jenne Farm in Central Whidbey, then spent some time in various empty spaces throughout Coupeville.
But finding space in Coupeville became increasingly difficult and the program moved to Oak Harbor five years ago, Decker said.
For the last two years, Holiday House has been able to operate out of space provided by the Oak Harbor School District.
Volunteers are busy this week gathering donations and getting things organized for Holiday House to open Saturday.
Toy donations were starting to come in this week.
“Teen gifts are really hard for us to come by, especially electronics,” Wertz said. “We also need gold infant toys.”
With each child getting 10 stocking stuffers, the $1 items are also vital to the program.
Holiday House starts Saturday, Dec. 17, and will be scheduling appointments through Christmas Eve.
Wertz said donations throughout the run of the program are vital.
“We need to stock shelves all through the program,” she said.
Toy donations can be taken to Collage Cards &Stationary on Pioneer Way and Skagit Farm Supply on State Highway 20.
n Monetary donations can be brought to SPIN Cafe, but make sure they are ear-marked for Holiday House. For more information about volunteering for Holiday House, call 360-279-5514, and for information on applying to use the program, contact your child’s school counselor.