Program aimed at helping families shape own holidays

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NORTH BEND - Children's Services of Sno-Valley (CSSV) wants every family to feel not only thankful this holiday season, but a little empowered.

Rather than having families accept generic gifts from a food line or boxes of donated gifts this Thanksgiving and Christmas, the North Bend-based family organization wants to give parents the opportunity to shape their own gatherings in the coming weeks.

"This gives us the opportunity to tell families, 'Here, make your own Christmas,'" said Family Enrichment Coordinator Kathy Place.

CSSV calls its method of gathering gifts and money for the holiday season "respectful giving," and it is part of the organization's overall philosophy that families can make the best decisions for themselves.

The staff came up with the program five years ago after seeing some awkward gift exchanges. Families from Asia received turkeys for Thanksgiving, having no idea how to cook them. During Christmas, some families would come to pick up gifts and feel judged, causing them to abandon the whole process the following year.

While there is never any doubt that a giver's heart is in the right place, CSSV wants to spare families any of the uncomfortable feelings they might have giving or receiving gifts. Instead of donating what they think a family would want, CSSV is asking the Valley to donate gift certificates, money and specific items that can be put together in gift baskets. These baskets will be personalized for specific families and given anonymously.

"People are so excited to pick these up," said Early Childhood Education Assistance Program Manager Paula Nelson. "They never get to go to the mall."

Even though CSSV is asking for a bit of discretion when donating, that doesn't mean they can't have fun putting together a basket. Donors are more than welcome to add the flowers and decorations that make holidays.

"It is the little things that make the holidays special and it is the little things they can't afford," said Director of Programs Laurie Vanderboom.

There are about 60 families CSSV currently serves that qualify for the program. A majority of those families are in the organization's Early Childhood and Education Assistance Program (ECEAP). To fall under the ECEAP guidelines, a family must have an income that comes in or below 110 percent of the federal poverty level. A family of four, for instance, can make no more than $20,240; a family of three, $16,786; and a family of two, $13,332.

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