Locals working to bring Community Toy Store closer to home

Community Toy Store in Bellingham, 2017.

Information session scheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 17 at The Bridge at Birch Bay

By Stefanie Donahue

To make the holiday season brighter for families in Blaine and Birch Bay, residents are gearing up to launch the Community Toy Store, a charitable program that serves Whatcom County families at Christmastime.

About a decade ago, the Community Toy Store was established in Bellingham to help parents buy gifts for their kids during the holidays. Throughout the season, volunteers collect new toy and clothing gift card donations for parents to purchase at a 75 to 90 percent discount. The items are setup just like a retail store and parents can purchase up to two gifts per child.

Last year, the event took place at Roosevelt Elementary School in Bellingham and was open to all Whatcom County families. For those living in Blaine and Birch Bay, the Family Service Center managed referrals, which were available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Proceeds from sales were donated to Rebound of Whatcom County, Whatcom Dream and The Bellingham Promise.

“We have been hoping, [for] the last five years, to bring it up to Blaine,” said Blaine resident and Community Toy Store volunteer Laura Vogee. “It has a lot of benefits to the community,”

For those who are interested in learning more about the program, Vogee and a handful of others are hosting an information session at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 17 at The Bridge at Birch Bay, 4815 Alderson Road.

The small group of volunteers has already received endorsements to start the program locally from several community groups, businesses and churches as well as the Blaine Chamber of Commerce and the Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce.

“We were all supportive of the toy store program,” said Blaine Chamber of Commerce treasurer Kimberli Shea in an email. “I believe several of us plan to attend their meeting later this month.”

Shea said the chamber has roughly $8,000 set aside for a program that benefits low-income families at Christmastime.

For a number of years, Blaine and Birch Bay residents participated in the Giving Tree program during Christmas. Donors selected tags with individualized gift ideas from Christmas trees located in local businesses; typically, the gifts cost less than $35. Volunteers delivered the gifts to participating recipients. Reduced participation led to its
demise in 2014.

Although some people have expressed interest in re-starting the Giving Tree program, Vogee believes the Community Toy Store program is a better idea. “It’s a hand up, not a hand out,” she said. “It gives the parents the gift of dignity.” She added, “We want to let the whole community know about this new program and the great benefits it would have, not only for local families in need, but also for the community as a whole, and hopefully get everyone going in the same direction on this.”

If Vogee and the other volunteers get enough support, they’d like to open the Community Toy Store to families that reside in the Blaine school district and qualify for free or reduced lunch. Approximately 46 percent of Blaine school students benefit from the free or
reduced cost lunch plan.

“Ideally, we would have use of a storefront or other suitable facility for two weeks in December, allowing for the donations to be collected, sorted, priced, arranged and sold all in one location,”according to a report about the program Vogee prepared. “For those families needing additional assistance, vouchers could also be made available by application.”

They’d like to see six to eight people step forward to coordinate the local program.

“The toy store will require a community-wide effort to successfully serve our local families,” read the report. “It has great potential to be a unifying force in our
community.”

To learn more about Community Toy Store, visit communitytoystore.org.

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