With thanks to about 150 of Santa’s best helpers, the Readiness to Learn Foundation’s Holiday House projects provided gifts for 714 Whidbey Island children this holiday season.
“We estimate upwards of $30,000 of toys, clothes and trees were donated by Whidbey residents as well as nearly $20,000 in monetary donations,” said Gail LaVassar, executive director of Readiness to Learn Foundation.
Holiday House, which operates in both Oak Harbor and Langley on Whidbey Island, began eight years ago when organizers noted many of the families being assisted had a need for holiday gifts for their children.
According to LaVassar, Holiday House is actually more of a holiday store. As donations come in, they are organized by volunteers, parents are given a certain amount they can spend on each child, then choose gifts based on that.
“It’s really nice to provide an experience where parents are in charge of what their children receive,” said LaVassar.
Readiness to Learn partners with other agencies and organizations, such as Toys For Tots, to help collect donations. On the South End, for example, all the Toys for Tots boxes go to Holiday House, as that is the primary holiday giving program. On the North End, Holiday House receives a portion of the gifts collected by Toys for Tots, which provides toys for other island agencies as well.
Families who get to participate in Holiday House are selected by the Readiness to Learn Foundation, which makes its selection based on several criteria, income being one of the main components. However, circumstances such as a recent major medical issue or a move can also have an impact on families and LaVassar said they are also taken into consideration.
Volunteers, many of them from the families being helped, set up the “stores,” help parents check out with their items and help with gift wrapping as well.
Most volunteers work four- to six-hour shifts, which allows more people to participate. The program is constantly being evaluated to be as efficient as possible.
“It’s much easier now than it was eight years ago,” LaVassar said. “It’s a big undertaking. But we have good systems in place and we respond (with changes) based on how participants and volunteers answer when surveyed.”
Any leftover gifts, said LaVassar, are shared with the Better Birthday Club, which gives out birthday gifts to children in need throughout the year. All in all, LaVassar said it is as gratifying as ever to be involved with Holiday House.
“I think my favorite part is seeing the smiles on the faces of parents as they select gifts, knowing something on their child’s wish list is going to be under the tree,” she said. “Although Readiness to Learn Foundation sponsors Holiday House, it is genuinely the spirit and generosity of local citizens that make the event magical.”
Call Readiness to Learn at 360-672-0099 for details.