Eight-year-old Ava Gardiner spots the Giving Tree at the same time as her mother, Elizabeth. Ava’s attention goes to a tag for a one-year-old girl. Instantly, she grasps the purpose, and is excited to buy clothes for the tot.
As Ava and her friend, Lillie, look at the tags for toddlers, tweens and teens, Elizabeth makes sure they understand the lesson here: that not every child in the Valley gets enough presents for Christmas. This Christmas tree, installed today at the Snoqualmie Y, seemingly early for the holidays, helps people share to ensure every child’s holiday is full of smiles.
Commanding the lobby from a fireplace corner, it’s a good spot for the Giving Tree, says Dave Mayer, Executive Director of the Snoqualmie Y.
This is year two for the Snoqualmie Y’s participation. But the Snoqualmie Valley Kiwanis Club’s Giving Tree tradition stretches back several years.
“I’m glad to be a part of it,” said Mayer, who is expecting big things this year.
The Y joins more than 35 businesses across the Valley. QFC and Safeway in Snoqualmie and the Ridge IGA are Giving Tree hubs, but gifts gather in lobbies and offices, large and small.
“Grocery stores are huge,” said Debby Peterman, a Kiwanian who’s been at the center of this drive for several years.
Club members started placing trees last week for the event, knowing that this year’s shortened holiday season means they need to work fast.
“This is early for us,” said Peterman. “Thanksgiving is so close to Christmas.”
With three distribution days starting on December 11, that’s only 13 shopping days between Thanksgiving and the day that these gifts go to families.
“We’re trying to beef it up early,” said Peterman. Luckily, “All the merchants have been so receptive to that,” she added. “They said, ‘Sure, put it up early. We’re happy to do that.’”
Last year, Giving Trees helped serve about 850 children as part of the One VOICE Holiday Event.
Numbers have grown slowly but steadily since One VOICE, which combines the Valley’s varied holiday drives, began its event three years ago.
“We’ve never gone backwards,” said Peterman.
This year, the Holiday Event is a little different. The event is focusing on those who are the main parents of a child. There is no set day for grandparents. Instead, grandparents who are acting as the primary parent of a child may pick up toys.
“It’s shocking that every year, it increases,” says Stacey Cepeda, an Encompass staffer who spearheads much of the holiday giving effort. “I fear we may have more kids this year.”
In 2012, Kiwanis members hung 2,000 tags, about 50 per tree. They ran out of presents, and had to go shopping on the second day. The club’s summertime fireworks stand used to provide fully for this, but local firework-sales competition makes it harder to supplement.
Donations of gift cards and cash help make up the difference.
Gift cards, especially, go to teens, “as they’re the group that’s hard to buy for,” said Peterman. “People seem to like buying for little kids.”
Families are chosen to take part through referrals by school counselors, food banks, churches and staff at Encompass.
Last year, One VOICE reached out to homebound seniors, working with the Mount Si Transitional Care Center and Mount Si Senior Center. Now, there are special Angel Tags, asking for a specific gift for a local senior. They’re hung on some Giving Trees in downtown North Bend.
Tears of joy
Peterman has plenty of stories about the families who are helped.
There was a homeless boy who shopped for his two little sisters.
“He was in tears,” Peterman said. “He felt better about getting something for them than getting something for himself.”
Then there was the mom, recently divorced, suddenly a breadwinner, worried that her little boys wouldn’t have Christmas.
“She said, ‘Thanks to you guys, I’m going to be able give my boys presents,’” Peterman remembered.
“For the parents, it’s being able to create a holiday for the kids,” she said. They “don’t want their kids to be the only ones who don’t get Christmas.”
Involvement and community spirit drive this event.
“So many people come together to make it work,” said Cepeda. “There’s one woman who took 10 tags off the tree. There’s a group at the high school, going door to door….Everybody wants to be a part. Even if they’re not at the level to give generously, they’re giving of their time.”
With 12 days from Thanksgiving to the Holiday Event, time is short this year.
“People wait until Thanksgiving to get into the Christmas spirit. But if they wait that long, they only have a short period to shop,” Peterman said. “We’re pushing the Christmas spirit a little early.”
Find a Giving Tree
Giving Trees can be found at North Bend ACE, Coach at North Bend Premium Outlets, America West, Cascade Office Supply, Snoqualmie City Hall, Encompass’s Main and Meadowbrook buildings, Snoqualmie Farmer’s Insurance, Kelly Garwood DDS, Hauglie Insurance, Snoqualmie Ridge IGA, Lifelong Early Learning Center, the Snoqualmie Valley Moose Lodge, Mount Si Golf Course, Mount Si Senior Center, North Bend and Snoqualmie Libraries, North Bend Physical Therapy, the Northwest Railroad Museum, Peak Sports, North Bend QFC, North Bend Safeway, North Bend Sheriff’s substation, Si View Community Center, Sno Falls Credit Union, Snoqualmie Cleaners, Snoqualmie Valley Brewery, Spacelabs, Snoqualmie Valley Hospital, Snoqualmie Ridge Early Learning Center, State Farm Insurance, the Snoqualmie YMCA, and Zetec.
Gifts collected by December 12 will be given to families in need during the One VOICE Holiday Event, December 12 and 13 at the North Bend Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Gifts collected after that date will be stored and kept for the 2014 event. Trees stay up through December 21.
• To contact Kiwanis, send an e-mail to Debby Peterman at email@example.com or call Paul Tredway at (425) 888-3650.
Above, Lillie Henretig, 9, and Ava, 8, and mom Elizabeth Gardiner choose their Giving Tree tags. The girls were excited about giving gifts to younger kids; Elizabeth explained the reasons behind the drive, which began last week.
Kiwanis members placed some 50 trees throughout the Valley for a short giving season. Below are Carlos de Imus, Dave Mayer, Debby Peterman, Kari Gage and Stacey Cepeda, with children Grace Misgen, Taylor Johnson, Jake Johnson, Kata Carman, Madison Loomis, Sienna Arnevik, Siri Arnevik, Molly Melkonian, and Kennedy Clark.