Santa drives a yellow rig

Jan Kammenga and Rosalie Ornowski decorate the holiday wreaths.  - Liz Burlingame/Whidbey New-Times
Jan Kammenga and Rosalie Ornowski decorate the holiday wreaths.
— image credit: Liz Burlingame/Whidbey New-Times

Needy families can expect to see Santa Claus a little early this year, arriving sans-sleigh, but in a yellow school bus filled with gifts and local generosity.

For the past six years, Oak Harbor school bus drivers have devoted a December afternoon for a special “Christmas route” to give back to the students they shuttle to and from school.

“We try to find the neediest families, who don’t often ask for help,” driver Jan Kammenga said.

Working months in advance, the drivers create festive wreaths and homemade blankets (sewn or crocheted) to sell to the public. The proceeds go toward Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas trees and trimmings, and fulfilling children’s wish lists.

“We’ve purchased GameBoys, dolls, clothes, shoes ... we’ve even bought hair appointments,” Kammenga said.

Bus driver Holly Roberts, founder of the annual project, said every driver pitches in whether it’s spending the weekend wrapping gifts or relinquishing their bus lounge space for boxes of donated clothing.

This year, Kammenga helped fashion the holiday wreaths with a broken hand.

A bazaar will be held Saturday, Nov. 15 at the transportation office on Midway Avenue, for the public to purchase their wares. The homemade wreaths can be special ordered for specific colors and the prices vary by size. Some of the blankets feature the Oak Harbor High School Wildcats or NFL sports teams, and Roppo’s Wood and Engraving will monogram names or graduations. Blankets, with the monograms, cost about $50.

Last year, approximately 50 wreaths were sold and helped support 12 local families. The drivers’ holiday list is a little smaller this year with six families signed up, but they always take suggestions. No paperwork is required.

Roberts said she can trace this project back to one high school senior who rode her bus route several years ago.

“I saw he didn’t have a whole lot and when you listen to these kids, you learn so much about them,” Roberts said.

With help from the other drivers she paid for the senior’s Christmas, ASB, sports fees and prom. And the group’s generosity has not ebbed, with more families to support every year and new ways to give.

“One year, we had a person who couldn’t get to their family for Thanksgiving so we gave them $100,” Kammenga said.

With hard economic times on the horizon, their donations are coming at a time when families are hurting the most. When asked how the families react to Roberts’ phone call, she answered, “They cry.”

The amount they give depends on how much they sell, Roberts said. The drivers will hold two bazaars, Nov. 15 and Dec. 6, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the transportation office across from Oak Harbor Elementary School. Hot lunches and baked goods will be served and cash donations are also accepted.

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