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The Christmas House Makes The Holidays Bright For The Poor

Volunteers+at+the+Christmas+House.%0APhoto+courtesy+of+the+Christmas+House+Flickr+page
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The Christmas House Makes The Holidays Bright For The Poor

Volunteers at the Christmas House.
Photo courtesy of the Christmas House Flickr page

Volunteers at the Christmas House. Photo courtesy of the Christmas House Flickr page

Volunteers at the Christmas House. Photo courtesy of the Christmas House Flickr page

Volunteers at the Christmas House. Photo courtesy of the Christmas House Flickr page

Angela Cooper-McCorkle, Alumni Contributor

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In Everett, Washington, Parents gathered in the dark and rain and stood in the cold. The hours ticked by — 9 p.m., 10 p.m., 11 p.m. — as they huddled around the store doors. At about 6:30 A.M. on December 3rd those doors opened and out came a dedicated crew distributing tickets to the dedicated shoppers.
The tickets weren’t to trade for cheap TVs or sleek gaming systems instead they gave the holder a chance at entry to a place where shoppers were heard calling it “amazing,” “miraculous,” and “a blessing.”

This was opening day for the Christmas House and the stakes were high for the waiting men and women, all eager to bring back gifts for their children who might otherwise not have any.
The nonprofit’s president Gregg Milne and a troupe of 800 volunteers had done their utmost to ensure the wait was worth it by collecting, sorting and shelving nearly 55,000 presents for children in need.

Lydia Herrera was one of the first camping out the night before and snagged a ticket for a 9:20 a.m. shopping slot.
Before they could shop, Herrera and the other customers were required to show identification, proof of custody, proof of income and of Snohomish County residency.
Herrera, a mother of two boys, ages six and eight, had shopped Christmas House before and knew the drill. “There were a lot more people here in past years,” she said. Herrera supposed the rain had chased away the crowds who still had 12 days to return for tickets. “It’s kind of entertaining” she said about the vigil, grateful for the chance to deliver a bevy of gifts to her boys despite her family’s low income.

Herrera checked in with staff and then got one of the day’s first escorted tours of a horde of high quality toys. Free didn’t mean that the toys were cheap: Lego, Fisher Price, Radio Flyer, Hot Wheels and many other top brands were laid out on tables for eager mothers and fathers not wanting to disappoint their children to wrap up and put under the tree.
A volunteer contended with a shopping cart traffic jam as Herrera methodically examined stacks of playsets, stuffed animals, books and games. She got to choose a stocking stuffer, small toy, large toy, knit cap for each son, plus a book of bedtime stories and a gift for the family- a jumbo-sized box of blue and green ornaments.
The spirit of giving and the joy that comes from that could be seen and heard throughout the Christmas House as parents exchanged hugs, grins and even offers to dance with volunteers.
to booming Christmas classics.

Access to the Christmas House is only available to families that earn less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level. That amounts to $36,375 for a family of four.
During last year’s 13-day shopping season, Christmas House benefited nearly 9,000 children from 3,060 low-income families, Milne said.
The donation-driven store serves 200 Snohomish County residents each day that it is open. They also set aside additional passes for special-needs customers, who are exempted from waiting in lines for tickets.

Toy tables were divided by age and gender. At an infants’ section, hand-sewn quilts and knit blankets graced the display. A toy train parked at the toddler table. Faux-fur lined coats waited on racks to warm teenagers while Mr. Potato and Transformers sets sat at a table for boys up to eight years old.
Milne and his fellow volunteers start their own shopping early to ensure the selection, spending approximately $140,000 on a New Year’s shopping spree to score up to $600,000 in deeply discounted toys. The goods are stored in another volunteer’s barn for the year.

Christmas House has its own wish list: Milne is looking for help to purchase additional storage, a goal that he estimates is five to six years away unless a sponsor can be found. Volunteers are also always in demand, as are funds for more toys.

Christmas House recently joined a youth impact fund initiative, joining forces with the Boys and Girls Club, Compass Health, Imagine Children’s Museum, Camp Fire and Boy Scouts. The coalition aims to affiliate with corporations that allow employees to make regular charitable donations through payroll deductions.

Christmas House already stresses thriftiness and volunteerism. 98 percent of the money raised is spent on toys Milne said because the operation runs with only two percent overhead and no paid staff.
“[Volunteering here] is awesome,” said Chris Bailey, volunteer of several years as she expertly steered carts through the maze of toys. “I feel like I’m shopping for myself!”
A previous version of this article was published in the Tribune at http://www.snoho.com/stories_2015
/120915_christmashouse.html

All photos courtesy of The Christmas House at www.flickr.com/photos/christmashouse.
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Angela Cooper-McCorkle, Contributor

Angela Cooper-McCorkle is a freelance journalist and recent alumna of National University where earned her B.A. in digital journalism, summa cum laude.

Her...

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The Christmas House Makes The Holidays Bright For The Poor