The holidays may look different this year, but an island-wide organization is hoping to keep the tradition of gift-giving as normal as possible.
Nonprofit Readiness to Learn is continuing Holiday House in Langley and Oak Harbor this year, although there will be significant changes to how the program, which benefits families with financial hardships, will operate.
Referred to this year as Holiday Help, Langley’s branch of the program will consist of delivered presents. Parents will fill out an online application in advance with recommendations of items their kids would like.
Parents are encouraged to be as detailed as possible about what their children do or don’t like. In the past, the program has allowed them to hand-select gifts during a shopping appointment, which won’t be possible this year with the coronavirus being a concern.
As usual, there will be two regular gifts available as well as a special “snowflake” item.
Family Resource Coordinator Cailyn Murray explained that the bigger gift has often been a popular or more costly item, such as a bicycle. Stocking stuffers will also be available.
Instead of a festive gift-wrapping event, the presents will be discreetly delivered to households this year, with gift wrapping included. Murray said volunteers are still needed to sign up for delivering the presents.
The bulk of the deliveries will continue until Dec. 10.
To be eligible, there are certain requirements that must be met. Participants of the program must verify that they are at or below 175 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, or are experiencing an unexpected financial hardship, such as loss of income, illness or unexpected costs.
Murray said because of the year’s circumstances, she expects an increased demand.
“It’s a very challenging year for lots of families,” Murray said. “Our community still gives generously, which is a blessing.”
To sign up for Langley’s Holiday Help or to volunteer, visit readinesstolearn.org/holiday-house. Questions can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 360-221-6808, extension 4321.
Monetary donations can be made to the Readiness to Learn website, or checks can be made out to PO Box 280, Langley, WA 98260. Donors can choose to specify which community they would like to receive their donation, either South Whidbey or North and Central Whidbey.
Donors can also contribute items that will become presents. Toys for Tots donation boxes are currently scattered throughout the island and can be found outside grocery stores.
Oak Harbor’s Holiday House will be a drive-through event this year, a departure from the festively decorated “store” of years past, where parents had the opportunity to pick out items.
Now, much like Langley’s Holiday Help, participants of Oak Harbor’s Holiday House will be filling out an online application with their child’s likes and dislikes.
Families can contact the school district they live in, but they do not need to have children enrolled within the school district.
Counselors at Coupeville and Oak Harbor school districts will be making the decision about who is eligible for the program this year.
“People who normally don’t need Holiday House are going to be needing Holiday House this year,” said Christina Wertz, a regular volunteer for the program and one of its coordinators this year.
Volunteer Coordinator June Zacharias pointed out that with the cancellation of Whidbey’s Hope for Christmas, Holiday House is expecting to take on even more requests for presents for kids this year.
Zacharias said the goal this year is to serve over 800 children between Holiday House’s two locations on Whidbey.
“I think there will be more than that because there’s just more people out of work and more people in need,” she said.
Parents will stay in their cars upon arriving at Holiday House’s location in the building across the street from the Oak Harbor Elementary School. Volunteers will be bringing out bags to each car with gifts, stocking stuffers and gift wrapping supplies. For each kid, there will be four gifts and 10 stocking stuffers.
North Whidbey’s Holiday House will start handing out the goods Dec. 14, and will continue through Dec. 23.
Zacharias said gifts can be hard to find for teenagers, and recommends that people consider donating headphones, cell phone accessories, art supplies and sports equipment, including Frisbees and skateboards.
She added that the program is in need of a few more younger volunteers who do not fall within the high risk categories of people susceptible to catching COVID-19.
A single household, for example, would be the perfect fit to volunteer because these family members can be close to each other.
• To volunteer, contact Zacharias at 360-682-2549.