By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist
Maggie Reece was 10 when her father died. A few years back, she found herself Christmas shopping for two girls who had just lost their dad.
“It was a woman with two children. Her husband had died unexpectedly,” Reece said. “One of the daughters was 11. I felt like I could relate.”
Reece, who lives in Everett, was recalling a recent year when she sponsored a family through the Holiday Basket program, organized by Volunteers of America Western Washington.
The nonprofit group is putting out an urgent call for others to step up as Holiday Basket sponsors.
Kathleen Dale, outreach manager for the VOA’s Everett Food Bank, said Monday that the basket program needs about 300 more sponsors to provide food and gifts for local low-income families. Nearly 1,700 households applied for help this year.
“The need is great. We need more sponsors,” Dale said.
Several weeks ago, the agency closed its list of people asking for help, according to Leann Geiger, director of food bank services for Volunteers of America Western Washington. “It’s a hard thing to have to turn people away,” Geiger said in a statement released by the agency Monday.
Reece, 57, is a VOA volunteer who devotes much of her time to the Holiday Basket effort, which matches sponsors with low-income families, or an elderly or disabled person. Sponsors provide groceries for holiday meals and gifts for each family member.
“We couldn’t do the program without her,” Dale said of Reece.
Reece said she now has more time than money, and isn’t sponsoring a family this year. “I can’t afford to buy for a whole family, but I can buy one or two gifts,” she said.
She plans to donate through a local giving tree or the Everett Transit-VOA Stuff a Bus. Gift donations will be accepted through Friday at Everett Station, or 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at a bus outside the Fred Meyer at 12906 Bothell-Everett Highway.
For people who can give, Reece said sponsoring a family is a rewarding holiday tradition.
“It’s very nice knowing you’re helping someone,” she said. One person doesn’t have to take on an entire family alone. “I’ve talked with a number of sponsors. In one office situation, everybody threw in $10 or $20. With 10 people, you can sponsor a small family,” she said.
People in need apply for holiday help. Dale said applications were distributed at schools where a high percentage of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. The Holiday Basket list also includes people in the VOA’s transitional housing program, and VOA clients who get home delivery of food.
Sponsors can drop items at the VOA or deliver them personally. “If they take it right to the house, that’s where the joy comes in. They get to see the family,” Dale said. Some clients aren’t comfortable with a sponsor visit, and that’s fine. “Our donors understand that,” Dale added.
Reece said it was helpful to directly contact the family she sponsored. She learned that the young widow was facing the first Christmas without her husband. The mother had never before needed help, Reece said.
“I talked to the mom about what she needed, and what the kids needed,” Reece said. A jacket and boots were on the list. “And one little thing — they had always had Hershey Kisses at Christmastime. I made sure there were plenty of Hershey Kisses in her basket,” Reece said.
“Most sponsors get all the fixings for a good holiday meal,” she said. She did that, plus added extra groceries. Some sponsors include supermarket gift cards. “We recommend two gifts per person, a nicer gift and some smaller things,” Reece said.
Dale said some seniors on the Holiday Basket list are home-bound. “Some of them don’t see anybody all month,” she said.
“Especially for seniors, it’s really nice to not just knock on the door, but to spend a few minutes visiting,” Reece said.
It’s humbling to know the difference a small gift can make.
“I talked to a senior the other day,” Reece said. “She asked that whoever her sponsor is, that they put some mints in her holiday basket — mints.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to help families
Volunteers of America Western Washington seeks sponsors to provide food and gifts to Snohomish County families in need who are helped by its Holiday Basket program.
For more information, contact Kathleen Dale at email@example.com or 425-212-3223.
Suggested delivery dates for gifts and food are Monday through Dec. 19.
Find sponsor registration forms at www.voaww.org/hbb_sponsorform.