By Ian Ferguson
It’s a great time of year for communities to come together and help those less fortunate, and in Blaine and Birch Bay, there is no shortage of neighbors willing to pitch in.
The Tree of Wishes is a continuation of the Blaine Christmas Giving Tree that has for many years allowed people to buy Christmas presents for local children whose families can’t afford them. Coordinator Cheryll Wydur said 185 families have applied to receive presents so far this year.
“There are tags in businesses all over town, and it’s not too late to get a tag and help make a child’s wish come true this Christmas,” Wydur said.
Wydur first started as a volunteer with the Blaine Christmas Giving Tree program nearly 20 years ago.
“My neighbor at the time, Linda Vargo, started the program, and my daughter and I helped her wrap presents,” Wydur said.
In 2013 the Good Samaritan Society-Stafholt stepped down from supporting the program after 15 years. Marsha Hawkins, the former coordinator, passed her role on to Wydur, who led coordination efforts last holiday season with support from the Blaine branch of the Boys & Girls Club of Whatcom County.
“Last year we served 952 children and 303 families,” Wydur said.
The Blaine Chamber of Commerce, which had managed the bank account for the Blaine Christmas Giving Tree up until this year, stepped down from that role, so Wydur changed the program’s name to the Tree of Wishes, gained non-profit status for the program and set up a bank account at U.S. Bank in Blaine.
Since then, she has been busy handing out applications at food banks, Blaine schools and community meals. Many local businesses have also lent a hand.
“It’s been really nice to see the businesses that have sponsored us this year,” Wydur said. “AMS in Blaine printed tags, Interlube saved boxes for us year round, A-Z Storage donated space to distribute gifts and Signs Plus in Bellingham donated a banner. Many other businesses have been a huge help by agreeing to distribute tags.”
For those who have never participated in a “giving tree” program, the concept is simple: families that can’t afford Christmas presents for their children pick up an application and fill out a wish list for toys or needed items for each child. Each child’s name, age and the items he or she wants are put on a tag, and the tags are distributed to businesses around town, where they are often hung on a Christmas tree.
Members of the community who have the means to buy an extra item or two can pick up a tag at a local business, shop for the items on it and bring the gifts and tag back to that same business. Volunteers then pick up the presents and box and distribute them to families before Christmas. It’s a simple way of making the tradition of presents on Christmas morning a possibility for many families facing economic hardship.
Learning from her experience and feedback last year, Wydur has made some changes to this year’s program. Many parents wanted the experience of wrapping the gifts for their children, so Wydur is looking for donations of wrapping paper, scotch tape and gift tags.
Wydur also found that some people over-shopped last year.
“If you want to go all out and buy more than what’s on the tag, that’s totally fine, but last year we had some issues where one sibling got much more than his or her siblings, and it led to some hurt feelings. This year, if you want to go overboard, give me a call and we’ll assign you to a whole family,” Wydur said.
Aside from picking up a tag and buying presents, there are many other ways to chip in. Volunteers are needed to coordinate with businesses, pick up items, sort them into boxes and distribute them to families, especially on Friday and Saturday, December 19 and 20. “Those are our big distribution days, but we’ll be sending some items out before that to spread out the load,” Wydur said.
Money donations will be used to shop for gifts. Cash or checks can be donated by direct deposit to the Tree of Wishes bank account at U.S. Bank in Blaine. The account number is 153566364102.
For those who want to contribute but can’t give a lot in terms of money or time, small items such as coloring books, crayons and second-hand clothing without holes or stains make good add-on gifts.
“We’ll sort the clothing by size and make sure it goes to the right child,” Wydur said.
With help from Jessie Burton, director of the Family Services Center at Blaine school district, Wydur has coordinated with the Community Toy Store based in Bellingham to make sure there is no overlap in coverage of families in need. The Tree of Wishes covers children living within the geographic boundaries of the Blaine school district, and children and teenagers are included.
Tags can be picked up at many businesses throughout Blaine and Birch Bay.
“People who participate are helping make a child’s wish come true, and Christmas is all about making children happy,” Wydur said.
Families that missed the application deadline may still be considered to go on a list in case of leftover gifts by calling Wydur. For information on where to find a tag, how to volunteer or other ways of helping, call Cheryll Wydur at 332-0069 or 927-9585.