The second week of December the racquetball courts at the Tukwila Community Center were out of their usual service. Instead, they were filled with hundreds of toys, household appliances, games, books, clothing and other gifts.
The items, collected over the past few months through the city of Tukwila’s Spirit of Giving drive, were waiting to be given to local families in need.
On Dec. 10, about 100 families got to pick out holiday gifts. Families are referred by social workers in the school district. The program targets the approximately 300 McKinney-Vento students in the Tukwila School District. The McKinney-Vento Act is a federal law that ensures immediate enrollment and educational stability for homeless children.
Any remaining gifts were taken by school social workers to give to families who qualify for free or reduced lunch.
The Spirit of Giving started about 17 years ago as a giving tree and then progressed to an adopt-a-family setup, said Shannon Fisher, volunteer and events coordinator for Tukwila Parks and Recreation.
“The need got to be so great,” Fisher said.
About six years ago, Fisher started distributing the gifts by setting up a day the families could come and shop. This allows the parents to pick out gifts for their children, as well as household items.
The Community Center’s social hall is transformed into a gift wrapping station for parents.
While their parents shop for gifts, children play in the gym. A photographer takes portraits of families in attendance.
“They (social workers) can invite so many more families,” Fisher said of the setup.
Volunteers are essential for making the event a success, Fisher said. About 30 people helped set up the day before the gift distribution and about 50 volunteers were on hand the day of.
Jon Jenks-Bauer, a BECU employee, joined co-workers to help with the setup.
“It’s easy to buy something and donate something, but it is more meaningful to see the community come together,” he said. “It reinforces how in a tough year people are willing to dig into their pockets.”
Jenks-Bauer has taken part in other community projects with his team from work, but this was his first year helping with the Spirit of Giving.
“I’ll definitely be back next year,” he said.
Renea Rayner has been helping with the event since she moved to Tukwila from Portland 11 years ago.
“I have always done adopt-a-family, so when we moved to Tukwila, I just called the Community Center and got connected with Shannon and said, ‘We want to adopt a family,’ ” Rayner said.
Even though she now lives in Issaquah, Rayner looks forward to helping with the event in Tukwila each year.
“I grew up without a lot,” she said. “Making sure kids have enough, it is my holiday.”
Rayner’s children, 9 and 12, also get involved.
“We take them out shopping and they come on the day…,” she said. “It’s a good opportunity for them to see not everyone has it as good as you.”
About five years ago, Rayner asked her employer, Strong-Bridge Consulting, to help out with the Spirit of Giving.
Being able to help parents provide gifts for their families is rewarding, Rayner said.
“Last year, there was a woman whose daughter really wanted a Baby Alive (doll),” Rayner said. “I knew I bought one on Black Friday, so I am helping her shop. We found it. It was still here and she cried because her daughter is going to get – not just a new present – but the exact present she wanted.”
Rayner recalled two years ago helping a mother pick out a bicycle for her son.
“This kid had never had a bike before,” Rayner said. “This woman had four kids. Her husband had left her. They were homeless. She came to the program just thinking she was going to get something. Her child wanted a bike so bad. She was just sobbing to know that her kid gets that bike. It really does have an impact.”
Many individuals and businesses donated to the Spirit of Giving, including Tukwila Children’s Foundation; city of Tukwila employees; Teamsters Local 763; Tukwila Library Board; ThriftBooks; AFC/Doctors Express Southcenter; Inspirus Credit Union; Best Buy in Tukwila; Wowrack, Sabey Cooperation; Starbucks; Zee Medical; California Pizza Kitchen; BECU; Strong-Bridge Consulting; Northwest Playground Equipment, Inc.; HealthPoint; Jumbo Deli and Gas; Tukwila Pool; Kristin Gopal State Farm insurance agent; Macy’s Logistics; Rotary Club of Duwamish Southside; Starfire Sports; Sahale Snacks; Vietnamese Martyrs Parish youth group; BenefitMall; Target; Les Schwab; and Barnes and Noble.
It’s not too early to start thinking about next year’s Spirit of Giving campaign. Businesses or individuals interested in taking part should contact Fisher at 206-768-2822, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.