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Christmas House serves hundreds of Federal Way kids | Visit the Giving Tree
Rose Ratteray knows that there are plenty of Federal Way parents who struggle to provide gifts for their children during the holidays. That is why she is doing what she can to help them.
Ratteray is one of dozens of volunteers who staff The Giving Tree, the gift donation arm of Christmas House, a communitywide program pairing needy Federal Way children with donated gifts.
“I know there are families out there who are really suffering, people who because of low wages cannot make it out of poverty without some help,” Ratteray said. “As blessed as I am, I feel it would be meaningless if I did not give back.”
Each day until Dec. 18, shoppers at The Commons Mall can stop by The Giving Tree located in the center aisle of the mall near Target. Shoppers can select a gift tag with a suggested item, purchase the gift and donate it to the Christmas House program. These gifts, along with gently used items that have been collected all year, will be the “store” that makes up Christmas House, held in the gymnasium of Steel Lake Presbyterian Church.
Parents are screened for need and given the required appointment through Multi-Service Center’s Food Bank. They come to Christmas House the week of Dec. 19 and shop for each of their children, ages 14 and under.
“What really makes Christmas House unique is that the parent actually picks out the gift for their child. They can feel more control that way, more a part of the giving,” said Debra Hansen, a Christmas House volunteer.
Now in its 27th year of serving Federal Way children, Christmas House was started by Betty Long, a local resident who saw a need and thought she could help. Christmas House has blossomed into a huge effort that reaches across Federal Way to involve hundreds of community members, area churches, Multi-Service Center and The Commons Mall. Last year, Christmas House served 2,287 area children. Organizers expect the need to be just as great this year.
Lana (who asked that we don’t use her last name), a mother of three young daughters, will be one of the parents coming to Christmas House.
“If it wasn’t for Christmas House, we wouldn’t have any presents,” Lana said. Her husband works, but brings home only $1,200 per month, enough to cover rent and a few necessities, but not enough to afford extras like gifts.
“My kids are not picky; they would be totally happy with whatever they get. I am grateful to be able to give them something,” she said.
Setup begins this week at the Steel Lake gym. By the time Christmas House opens, tables will be steeped with toys, games, puzzles and stocking stuffers, all arranged by age and gender, making shopping easier. Everything to make a meaningful Christmas will be there, including gently used Christmas decorations, warm hats and gloves, pairs of socks, even candy canes. Parents come at assigned times and shop one at a time with volunteer guides who help them make selections.
For volunteer Jan Gibson, this is the best part of volunteering. “It’s such fun to see the delight on parents’ faces,” she said. “Last year, one mother was so thrilled to find a jacket for her daughter. It was just so great to see. People are truly blown away by the options they have for gifts.”
The wide array of gifts is only because of the generosity of the area community. While new gifts are purchased through The Giving Tree, used items are accepted all year long at Multi-Service Center. In addition, community groups prepare their own contributions.
A program at Marine View Presbyterian Church refurbishes donated bicycles, a local knitting group makes hats and scarves, groups hold sock drives and toy drives. One woman cleans and repairs donated jewelry. There is a group that refurbishes dolls and another that cleans stuffed animals.
“All these disassociated groups come together to help provide a meaningful Christmas to children in Federal Way,” Gibson said. “It really says so much about Federal Way and the support of the community here. It just makes you feel good about the city and its residents.”
There is no budget for Christmas House. Everything is donated. And because of that, Gibson said, there is a balancing act each year to have enough gifts.
“Somehow, every year we have managed to have enough. It’s amazing, really,” Gibson said.
Get involved: Donate and more
If you would like to donate to Christmas House, stop by The Giving Tree at the Commons Mall, or bring your donation to Multi-Service Center. Donations can be received at MSC’s warehouse, located behind the main program building at 1200 S. 336th St., between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Friday until Dec. 18. Please mark items for “Christmas House.”
For a list of most-needed items, visit www.multi-servicecenter.com and click on Get Involved. Questions? Contact Terri Turner at (253) 838-6810, or Carolyn Cowan at (253) 839-9586.
How you can help
• Volunteers are needed to stock tables, guide shoppers, set up and take down, and more. To help with Christmas House, call Carolyn Cowan at (253) 839-9586.
• Donate new gifts: New Toys, all ages, priced at $15 and up. Teenage gifts, priced at $15 and up (teenage boy gifts are especially needed). This may be the only gift a child receives this Christmas, and by suggesting an approximate cost, we will ensure it is a nice gift. Thank you. Please do not wrap these gifts.
• Donate new or gently used family games or puzzles with all pieces intact; new socks, sizes infant to adult; ornaments, holiday decor; wrapping paper; stuffed animals; stocking stuffers; books for children and teens; hats, gloves, scarves; cash donations (made out to Multi-Service Center, with Christmas House in subject line)