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CSSV starts Respectful Giving campaign

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NORTH BEND - Behind Children Services of Sno-Valley's (CSSV) "Respectful Giving" campaign is the idea of letting families have more control over their holiday season.

This month and next month will make up the sixth holiday season the North Bend-based child and family services organization has done its Respectful Giving campaign. It is called "respectful" not out of disrespect for any other way of giving, but because CSSV wanted to empower families to take the holiday season into their own hands.

When CSSV held its first giving campaign six years ago, it gathered donations for 36 families enrolled in its Early Childhood and Education Assistance Program (ECEAP), a low-income family program. CSSV wanted the program to give those taking part the best donations for the holiday season and take some of the problems out of the organization's holiday gift giving.

"So many times, low-income families feel like they get either dregs that are left over, or they don't get to make decisions about what goes on with their family," said Laurie Vanderboom, director of programs for CSSV.

The Respectful Giving campaign receives donations from individuals who put together gift baskets or boxes full of enough staples to make a holiday meal. Rather than giving everyone a turkey for the holiday season, CSSV includes gift certificates for local grocery stores where recipients can get the holiday entree of their choice. Once the baskets are complete, they are distributed by just a few members of the CSSV staff at appointed times so the giver of the gift never sees the recipient. CSSV staff members try to hook up particular baskets with particular families to cater to that family's specific size and needs.

"It's more respectful, we feel, to give that way," Vanderboom said.

Over the years, the program has grown to include more than just the ECEAP families and now everyone involved with CSSV programs is eligible. CSSV hopes to serve at least as many families as it did last year, which was 90. CSSV received so many donations last year it needed to store them in a container donated by Door To Door Storage of Issaquah.

Some of the baskets are put together by individuals and others are put together by businesses or groups. Those donating can put together baskets for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or both. CSSV does ask that holiday baskets not have any religious items in order to respect every family's own traditions, but does encourage those donating a basket to make it look as beautiful as possible, with a card to the family receiving it included. Staff and volunteers from CSSV will be available to help decorate once the baskets are dropped off.

"Everyone will get a gift-type looking basket," said Suzanne Oliver, community activities director for CSSV.

While the baskets are mostly made up of food, CSSV encourages people to throw in some of the little extras that make the holiday season more festive, like candles and a nice table cloth. Those little touches may not sound like much, but they can add an ambiance of cheer that is often missing from many homes that are struggling. CSSV Family Support Manager Kerry Beymer said families with tight budgets will not spend money on expensive decorations. It makes sense, Beymer said, since transient families need to make hard decisions about what goes and what stays during a move and often holiday decorations are the last thing those on the move will bring along.

"It breaks my heart at Christmas time when I have gone to so many people's homes and these kids wouldn't know that today was different than any other time of the year," Beymer said.

Poverty can be hard to see in the Valley, which is becoming more affluent, but CSSV continues to help low-income families from all over the area. There are also families helped by CSSV who may not have received any kind of assistance before. With so many families living from paycheck to paycheck, a death or illness in the family can necessitate asking for help this season.

One of the organization's ethos is empowering families and they see the giving campaign as a good way for parents to still feel in control of their home during the holidays. Rather than wait in a line to get a basket full of donations they may not be able to use, with the Respectful Giving program families have a choice of what they give their families.

CSSV has high hopes for its drive this year. The staff knows the need is great, but they have faith that the Valley community will help its neighbors and come through to fill the demand.

"You know what, it's a miracle," Vanderboom said. "That is kind of the magic of this place. There is always enough."

* To take part in CSSV's Respectful Giving campaign, call Suzanne Oliver at (425) 888-2777. To donate for Thanksgiving, contact CSSV by Nov. 17 in order to drop off a basket by Nov. 19. For the December holiday season, contact CSSV by Dec. 15 in order to drop off a basket by Dec. 17.

Editor Ben Cape can be reached at (425) 888-2311 or by e-mail at ben.cape@valleyrecord.com

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