The Washington City Mission is continuing a holiday tradition, giving local children a merry Christmas through a gift program.
In a building on West Wheeling Street in Washington, dedicated volunteers from the mission and local service organizations work for hours filling green and red bags with children’s clothes and toys.
“It really is kind of like Santa’s workshop,” said Donna Bussey, director for public relations for the Washington City Mission.
Kelly Morris, mission volunteer coordinator, estimated volunteers prepared and distributed more than 500 gifts last year, and sees the number growing this year.
“Basically, we take donations and give them out to the community,” Morris said. “Not for adults, unless they’re a resident, only kids, and it’s all new items.”
The residents of the mission shelter held a Christmas party Friday, and signed up to receive gifts donated by churches, individuals and local businesses. The residents and local children qualify for the gift program based on household income, age and other criteria.
Children ask for a maximum of three gifts on individual gift request forms. Volunteers find the items, stored in rooms throughout the building, always throwing in a few extra necessites, including winter clothing, toiletries and school supplies.
“You have the list in your hand, walk around, and fill it up as best as you can,” Bussey said. “We usually fill the three requests, but, of course, we tend to put in some extra stuff.”
The process of organizing the donated goods lasts from the end of November until the week before Christmas, when volunteers start actually assembling the gift bags. Barbara Walker, a volunteer and self-proclaimed “elf” noticed an increase in generosity this year.
“We had one resident who asked for a Crock Pot, so we asked for someone to donate a Crock Pot,” Walker said. “We didn’t get one, we got five.”
Most parents request practical items for children – winter coats, boots, and school clothes. However, the children often ask for at least one toy, typically a video game or sporting equipment for boys and various Barbie-related items for girls. The Christian affiliation of the Washington City Mission sometimes places limits on gift requests if necessary.
“When things are asked for that are un-Christian or questionable, we simply don’t give them out,” Walker said. All gift bags include a Bible.
One volunteer working early this week excitedly placed a Lightning McQueen shirt, depitcing the main character from Disney’s “Cars” and “Cars 2,” into a bag already filled with a NERF gun and stuffed Angry Birds toys, matching all three gift requests for a small boy, exclaiming, “I got all three! He’s going to be so excited!” and summing up the main goal of the program: A merry Christmas for all.