By Steve Guntli
The Blaine Community Chamber of Commerce is endorsing a Bellingham-based holiday charity, in the hopes of expanding it to Blaine in the future.
The chamber is urging families to take part in the Community Toy Store, a charity that gets toys, books and clothing to needy children in the community. The chamber is endorsing the toy store program in lieu of the Giving Tree program, which the chamber has opted not to hold this year.
The chamber is looking at this year as a pilot program for a possible expansion into Blaine in 2015. Presently, the event is only held in Bellingham, but is open to Blaine and Birch Bay families.
“The people with the Community Toy Store have expressed interest in doing an event here in Blaine,” said chamber president Kimberly Akre. “We’ll be looking at the response this year as a way of gauging interest and need in the community.”
In the past, the Giving Tree program was sponsored by independent businesses in the area, while the chamber managed the donations. Two years ago, when the business partners dropped out, the chamber opted to manage the program alone, but finding an organization to coordinate the program proved to be too much of a challenge.
“This was not something a lot of groups wanted to take on,” said chamber treasurer Kimberli Shea. “It can take more than a year to establish a nonprofit, too, so time was certainly a factor. We thought it would be better to partner with an existing, successful program.”
Community Toy Store and Giving Tree are very different programs. Giving Tree donors would select a tag off a display Christmas tree, purchase the gift, usually limited to $35, and volunteers would see that it went to the right child.
Donations for the Community Toy Store are gathered from drop-off points throughout the season, and then brought to one location and put on display. Parents are allowed to peruse the donated items, select the ones best suited for their children, and purchase them at 10-25 percent of the retail price. Since items in the Toy Store program aren’t free, parents have much more control over the gifts their child receives.
“A lot of people prefer this method, because there’s a lot of dignity to it, and less of a stigma,” Akre said. “It’s a hand up, not a hand-out.”
Donors can give as much as they want, including toys, gift cards or cash donations. Proceeds from the sale of the toys will go to various nonprofit organizations throughout the county. Families will need to be approved by the Family Service Center before participating.
This year’s Community Toy Store is scheduled for Saturday, December 13 at Roosevelt Elementary School in Bellingham. Volunteers will provide food, drinks, entertainment and free child care while parents shop.
Donations are being accepted now at the Pacific Building Center and the Blaine Visitor Information Center. Any businesses interested in serving as a drop-off location can contact the chamber at 332-6484.
For more information on how to sign up for the program, visit the Blaine school district’s Family Service Center’s website at blaine.wednet.edu/FSC/index.htm, or call Jessie Burton at 332-0740.