Christmas House brings cheer to families, volunteers

MARYSVILLE — Brothers Kai and Rylan Townsend are learning to care about other people.

Part of their lessons involves an allowance, which isn’t paid for household chores but so they learn to budget. Their money is divided into four jars. One is for spending, another for saving, the third for a long-term goal.

The fourth jar, considered by their parents to be the most important, is for charity.

The young boys’ mother, Tasha Townsend, is the secretary of the 23-member board of directors of Christmas House, which since 1981 has been making Christmas better for children of low-income families in Snohomish County.

“Giving to others doesn’t just happen,” said Townsend, of Marysville. “You have to teach it and lead by example. My husband Trevor and I want our boys to grow up believing that giving is just part of life.”

The boys spent money from their “charity” jars on Monday to buy toys for Christmas House.

The nonprofit, Everett-based organization is run completely by volunteers. It provides an opportunity every December for qualifying parents to select a half-dozen free gifts for each of their children, from babies to teens. Christmas House officials estimate that the agency provides toys, clothing and other gifts for more than 10,000 kids each holiday season.

Christmas House volunteers, who number in the hundreds, contribute time, money or gifts, hold fundraisers and offer their skills to make the effort a success.

See more ways you can help charities this holiday season

Kai, 9, considers himself one of those volunteers, and he takes his job seriously.

At a local discount store earlier this week, he methodically walked up and down the store aisles looking for popular but reasonably priced toys to buy and donate.

“No weapons, right, Mom?”

“Right.”

Kai also helps his mom shop the sales all year long and to pack up toy boxes, all efficiently organized and coded, to be unloaded next weekend in anticipation of the Dec. 5 opening of Christmas House.

“We save up our allowance to buy these presents,” Kai said. “Not all families have stuff like we do. It feels good to help.”

His brother, Rylan, 6, supports the effort by choosing toys he would pick for himself and offering his expertise that way, his mother said.

Townsend, who grew up helping her mother fill food baskets for neighbors, joined Christmas House more than a year ago after reading an article in The Herald about volunteer and board member Mel Hammond.

“I was drawn to Christmas House because it has little or no overhead, so cash donations go directly to those who need them,” Townsend said. “I jumped in with both feet.”

It’s a year-round effort.

Townsend helps buy the gifts, writes grant requests and solicits other big donations, helps load and unload and is in charge of the miscellaneous gifts, such as tree decorations, that parents can pick up at Christmas House.

“It does me good,” Townsend said. “There are so many heartwarming stories that come out of Christmas House. The grandmothers who raise their grandchildren. The hard-working people who need just a little help.”

Tonya, who asked that her last name not be used, is an Everett single mom raising three young girls. She has “shopped” for them at Christmas House for several years now.

“I work full time and just manage to pay my rent and bills,” Tonya said. “Without Christmas House, though, I wouldn’t be able to put anything under the tree. When I was a child, we always had presents, so I am grateful for the help. The volunteers at Christmas House are always nice, there’s always lots to choose from and my kids are always pleased with what they get.”

That’s the kind of story Townsend likes to hear.

“Christmas House is such a great charity,” she said. “I plan to help out for a long, long time.”

The Christmas House “store” is scheduled to be open Dec. 5 through 21, except Sundays and Mondays, in the Boys &Girls Club gymnasium, 2316 12th St. in north Everett.

Cash donations to Christmas House can be mailed to P.O. Box 717, Everett, WA 98206. For places to drop off new toys for all ages, or to volunteer, leave a message at 425-338-2273 or go to www.christmas-house.org.

Volunteers are needed for the store setup, scheduled next Saturday through Dec. 4, and new members are needed on the agency’s board of directors.

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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