Elf power makes Christmas great for so many kids

Can you hear the stamp of felt feet? There is an army of elves mobilizing in Puget Sound, like they do every year without fail. Christmas House, Holly House, Matthew House, Toys for Tots; volunteers from every city work hard to bring a merry holiday to thousands of children whose families are on hard times.

Administrative elves work all year. They attend meetings, plan calendars and predict needs. Tinkering elves scout garage sales for bikes that can be fixed up and transformed into the perfect present. Rotarian elves — you know who you are — man the collection table at Alderwood Mall throughout the season.

Helper elves come in all shapes and sizes. Little ones in Stanwood collect toys at their preschool. Older elves in Marysville knit baby blankets that will be cherished.

Sometimes elves can surprise you. Like when you’re at Costco and your 4-year-old elf spots the perfect gift to donate. You say it’s too expensive and she offers her allowance.

The elves that never get any glory are the muscle elves. They set up shop the day before and then clean things up after. Grunt work isn’t pretty, but it’s essential.

Now for my own elf story which I think embodies the miracle of Christmas.

Over the past seven years volunteering at the Toy Shop for the Edmonds Food Bank, I have witnessed needs grow but never outstrip generosity. But 2013 was especially hard because people were feeling the effects of long-term unemployment. I was particularly struck that year, by how many people were first-time recipients.

At the Edmonds Toy Shop volunteers are careful to hold back some of the better presents and then bring them out in stages. That way all the “good” gifts aren’t gone by 11 a.m. .

One mother I escorted through the line reminded me of myself. She looked like me and had two children who were exactly my kids’ ages.

When we came to the table for 7-year-olds, a volunteer had recently put a miniature American Girl doll and book on display. It was a doll named Caroline and the only one donated that year.

As soon as the mother saw Caroline she selected it for her daughter’s gift. Then she started to cry. “This is the only thing my daughter wanted for Christmas and I didn’t think I’d be able to give it to her,” she told me.

I wiped away tears too, but for a different reason. I had seen that doll at Costco but hadn’t bought it because it was almost $40 — even though my daughter offered to contribute her allowance.

You see, I was the tight-wad elf that year. But thankfully, somewhere in Snohomish County, there was an elf far more generous than I.

Jennifer Bardsley is an Edmonds mom of two. Find her on Twitter @jennbardsley and at www.heraldnet.com/ibrakeformoms and teachingmybabytoread.com.

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