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Santa called to help North Whidbey needy in July

North Whidbey Help House Executive Director Jean Wieman sorts food in the warehouse on Tuesday. This Saturday the organization will be holding its annual Christmas in July fundraiser to try and stock some empty shelves during the slow summer months.  - Katie McVicker/Whidbey News-Times
North Whidbey Help House Executive Director Jean Wieman sorts food in the warehouse on Tuesday. This Saturday the organization will be holding its annual Christmas in July fundraiser to try and stock some empty shelves during the slow summer months.
— image credit: Katie McVicker/Whidbey News-Times

This weekend, the North Whidbey Help House invites everyone to conjure up some holiday spirit and take on the role of Old Saint Nick. But fear not, the red suit and beard are optional.

On Saturday, volunteers from service organizations like the Oak Harbor Lions Club, Soroptimist International of Oak Harbor and the Navy will be standing outside grocery stores collecting gifts of food and money for the food bank’s annual Christmas in July fundraiser.

Help House Executive Director Jean Wieman said Christmas in July was started to remind people that donations are needed year round. She said typically the summer months are very slow because people are on vacation and don’t think about giving as much as they do during the winter holidays.

“We’re able to keep up right now,” Wieman said, “but the warehouse isn’t as full as we’d like it to be.”

So far this year, Help House employees have had to spend $19,000 to keep the shelves stocked compared to the $15,000 they’d spent at this point last year. Wieman said they’ve handed out 3,083 food baskets in the last six months, which is 88 more than this time in 2010 — one of the highest years of need in Help House history. She said on average about five new people sign up for food every day.

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, July 16, food will be collected at Walmart, Safeway, Albertson’s and Saar’s Marketplace in Oak Harbor. Volunteers will be handing out wish lists to shoppers as they head into the store and will also be accepting monetary donations. According to Deputy Director Eric Mager, last year the fundraiser brought in about 1,500 food items.

This year, the Help House hopes to collect 8,000 pounds of food and $8,000, but Wieman said the group will be thankful for whatever comes in.

“At this point in time, we’ll take almost anything,” Wieman said. “Truly.”

Wieman said she can usually count on community members to pitch in when the organization is struggling. She said more than 80 percent of the Help House operating budget comes from private donations.

“We’re very lucky,” Wieman said. “When word gets out that we’re running low, the donations start pouring in. This is a great place to live.”

Though Christmas in July will only be held this weekend, people can drop off donations of food and money to the Help House any time. Checks can also be mailed in. The Help House is open from 8 a.m. until noon and from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. on weekdays and stays open for an additional hour on Tuesdays. People can give nonperishable food items like cereal and boxed pastas, but they’re also encouraged to bring in fresh produce from their summer gardens or grocery stores.

After the fundraiser on Saturday, the Help House will be hosting an open house barbecue with hot dogs and hamburgers from 2 to 6 p.m.

“It’s a great way for people to come in and look around and see what we’re all about,” Wieman said.

The Help House is located at 1091 SE Hathaway St. Call 675-0681 for more information or visit the Help House on Facebook.

Community Events, April 2014

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