Since last year, Barbara Diaz has had three brain surgeries. Her 8-year-old son told his mother what he wanted most for Christmas.
The boy asked only that she be healthy, Diaz said. But thanks to Christmas House, he and his younger sisters will find toys and other presents under their tree.
“This year is really special,” said Diaz, 25, who lives in Mountlake Terrace. “They’re really excited just to have a Christmas tree.”
An all-volunteer nonprofit organization, Christmas House provides gifts for Snohomish County children from qualifying low-income homes. Every December, the group sets up shop at the Everett Boys & Girls Club. Parents have the opportunity to “shop,” but the gifts are free to the families.
Diaz was near tears Friday as Christmas House volunteer Claire Horton helped her pick out presents for her boy and two girls, ages 6 and 4. When Diaz was nearly finished, another volunteer wheeled out a bike complete with helmet — a big surprise.
The organization’s 2017 “shopping” days ended Saturday, and more than 7,500 children now have gifts to open this season.
“We served close to 7,600 kids this year,” said Gregg Milne, president of the Christmas House board of directors. That’s about 300 fewer children than the number receiving gifts in 2016, said Milne, a retired Snohomish County PUD manger. “There was a slight drop in need,” he said.
A year ago, as Diaz coped with a condition called Chiari malformation, her husband Carlos was in Mexico. With some immigration issues resolved, he can be here with his family this Christmas. The young mom’s short hair can’t hide scars from her surgeries. With Chiari malformation, brain tissue extends into the spinal canal.
“Last year was really hard,” said Diaz, who expressed gratitude for “these kinds of organizations.”
Latresha Fulson, of Lynnwood, said her four boys are hoping for “sports stuff and clothes” this Christmas. The Lynnwood mom was getting gifts for sons ages 9, 14 and 18 — including a set of twins. This year, she said, her kids wouldn’t get much without Christmas House.
Everett’s Cynthia Kirkman, a longtime foster parent, is now raising two granddaughters. “This really does help out,” she said. At Christmas House on Friday, Kirkman was finding presents for a 12-year-old she described as “girly” and for her 9-year-old “tomboyish” granddaughter.
“These people appreciate it,” said Linda Coons, of Camano Island, who has volunteered for five years at Christmas House. “We get to see the smiles on their faces.”
Christmas House was founded in 1981 by Roy Fraser, who operated it out of his garage and stocked it with refurbished used toys and homemade items. He died before seeing the Everett-based charity become what it is today. The nonprofit works year-round to procure and store gifts, raise money and organize volunteers.
Dozens of companies and charitable groups donate thousands of dollars, along with toys of all kinds, clothing and homemade items, and storage space. And each shopper is accompanied by a volunteer. It’s a meaningful experience for volunteers.
“I’m sure everybody here has a story. Some share, some don’t,” said Tasha Townsend, secretary of the Christmas House board. She came from her home north of Everett to volunteer Friday. Like some of the parents receiving gifts, she was wiping away tears.
“Every once in a while, you get that one — you just know,” Townsend said. “Everybody here needs it. Some just need it more.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christmas House, a local nonprofit that provides holiday gifts to families in need in Snohomish County, is now closed for the 2017 season. Its “store” in the Everett Boys & Girls Club provided about 46,000 gifts to more than 7,500 children from 2,500 families this year. Learn more or donate at www.christmas-house.org.