The man who gave the present won’t ever meet the boy who received it.
But the One VOICE volunteers who discovered the thoughtfully assembled, carefully wrapped bag, meant for a teenage recipient and left under one of the Snoqualmie Valley Kiwanis Club’s Giving Trees last week, are certain that this gesture will be treasured.
The Bed, Bath and Beyond bag was tightly tied. Inside were a digital voice recorder, an LED microscope, magnetic dartboards and a travel alarm clock, among other presents.
Volunteers could tell the giver took his time.
“I don’t know you,” read the personal note inside, “but you’re 17 years old. I picked out some things I thought you would like.”
This special gift was one of hundreds that came in for the One VOICE Holiday Event, a drive that shares and household items with needy families in the Valley. More than 40 clubs, businesses and churches take part.
They work together to make the Holiday Event much more than the sum of its parts.
Thursday night, it was Paul Tredway’s job to drive to the store and play Santa: Picking up a carload of toys to flesh out the Giving Tree donations for One VOICE.
“You’re never too old to buy toys. It’s great fun,” says Tredway, a member of Snoqualmie Valley Kiwanis and an officer of the club’s state organization.
It’s been a while since Tredway bought toys for his own kids, so he loves company in making selections at local shops or the big box stores in Issaquah.
The local Kiwanis will probably spend at least $3,500 on toys for the One VOICE drive through the holidays. While clothing and household product donations were up for the Holiday Event, toy donations were down from last year. That means that volunteers like Tredway seek to fill the gap. One VOICE organizer Stacey Cepeda expects no children will go without a Christmas toy.
“I don’t think Kiwanis would let that happen,” she says.
“People didn’t give as much, but at the same time, we have more demand,” says Tredway. It’s a combination of people not quite giving as much this year, and the fact that prices for items have risen.
“Certainly, the families who are getting gifts and are able to get things for their households are extremely pleased,” said Tredway. “We just wish we had a little bit more.”
Still, “Our community always steps up,” Tredway says. “The families who are served are very appreciative.”
Tredway describes this work as fulfulling.
“You join a service organization to do these kinds of things,” he says. “That’s why you join a service organization—to help. We’re very lucky that we’ve been able to do these kinds of things extremely well.”
After days of work, he and other volunteers are tired but happy: “Exhausted, but it’s a good exhausted,” Tredway says.
The Holiday Event fills the North Bend Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints for about four days, as volunteers fill practically every room with goods. Families came through Thursday and Friday, Dec. 13 and 14, choosing gifts. Each family has a set number of points per person to ‘buy’ items with. More expensive presents cost more points.
Like Tredway, Kim Irvine was tired after a day of setting up the Holiday Event, but full of praise for her volunteers. Some new this year, others old hands, they’re all ready and willing to give of their time for the better part of a week during a busy and often stressful season, Irvine says.
The families that come and benefit, “a lot of them are humble,” Irvine says. “It’s a tough thing to admit you need help to make ends meet and have your children happy.”
Inside the North Bend LDS Church, nearly every room is in use. The main meeting rooms are packed with clothing and toys.
There are fewer toys than last year, but more clothing for families, Irvine says: “It’s a good assortment.”
Asked what here warms her heart the most, Irvine looks around, heads past the big toy sets and clothing to the raffle room, where some donors have placed big-ticket items including bikes, a wagon and powered vehicles for tots. These are given away at random, to keep things fair. There’s also a row of gift bags for teens assembled by Rotarians, stuffed with accessories and high-tech goodies for the older set.
What here makes the most impact? “It depends on the person,” says Ellen Stensland, another volunteer. “Each person likes different things.” She loved crayons and coloring books, but notes the loaded tables of games, for both the little ones and older children. A big stack of boots, donated by Costco, will also probably make a warm difference for families.
Sorting the teen aisle, volunteer Cherise Athay, 23, says the beauty products would make a young person happy.
“It probably seems shallow. But remembering my teen years, that’s what catches my eye,” she said.
Won’t miss out
Kiwanis Giving Trees are a local tradition that dates back more than 20 years. Every November, club members place trees with card ornaments around the Valley—the cards are gift suggestions for different age groups in needy families.
But in the last two years, the Kiwanians joined Encompass and a slate of other groups to pool resources for holiday drives.
It’s all about avoiding the duplication of effort. As part of One VOICE (the acronym stands for Valley Organizations in Collective Effort), every club, church and business can focus better to help others.
One VOICE focuses on two yearly events: A resource fair, held in June, which collects summer items like flip flops and clothing, and the Holiday Event, which gathers toys and coats. Both events also gather family basics such as hygiene products and books.
Last Christmas, the One VOICE event served about 800 children. This year is shaping up to be very similar. With 255 families and some 630 children receiving gifts through last Friday, the Kiwanis will serve families through Christmas, handling latecomers.
“There will be people who missed out on this, and we’ll have stuff for them,” Tredway said.
• For more information about One VOICE, contact Stacey Cepeda, at (425) 888-2777 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the One VOICE Facebook page.
• To help the Kiwanis meet last minute gift needs, contact Paul Tredway at (425) 531-1383. Donors are welcome to deliver unwrapped gifts and gift cards, or money donations, to the Sallal Water Association office, 44021 S.E. Tanner Rd., Suite E, in North Bend.