Federal Way police give 60 struggling families gift of Christmas | Slideshow

Single mom Melissa Pederson selected stuffed animals, gift cards and candy to stuff in her three children’s stockings and put under the Christmas tree.

While she moved from table to table, the tune of “Jingle Bells” and other Christmas songs played in the background.

But it wasn’t the mall or department store that many parents experience during their annual Christmas shopping.

Instead, she was surrounded by 59 other Federal Way families who “shopped” at Grace Church in Federal Way on Friday evening.

Federal Way Public Schools identified those families in greatest need throughout the district. The Federal Way Police Department partnered with the church and held the annual Adopt-A-Family program, providing a Christmas experience for 60 families.

This year, the police department was able to double the amount of families they served last year.

Pederson, a student at Green River Community College, relies solely on school grants and loans for her income.

“You wait on school income and here it is the end of the quarter,” said Pederson, whose children attend Lake Grove Elementary and Lakota High School. “So without this, I wouldn’t have been able to provide my kids Christmas presents.”

But it wasn’t easy for Pederson to get the help her family needed. When a school official first told her about the event, she felt embarrassed.

“I think that sometimes our pride gets in the way and as a parent who is in need I must put that to the side and accept the help when it’s offered,” said Pederson, who is pursuing a degree in social work. “It’s hard to walk in a place where you feel people may judge your situation. The people at Grace Church did anything but that. They were all so caring and the fact the event was for the whole family made me feel OK with accepting the help.”

During the event, one room was set up for kids to do activities, including creating a gift for their parents. Another room was set up for parents, where they could look through new toys and stocking stuffers set up on several tables, with the help of personal shoppers dressed as elves.

Families were also provided with stockings, gift wrapping and were sent home with a Christmas ham for their family dinner.

“A lot of families don’t have access to gift wrapping and things like scissors,” noted Pederson, who said it was helpful that volunteers were on hand to provide personal gift wrapping.

Giovanna Vega was at the event with her 1-year-old son, Ayden, and her brother, a second grader at Adelaide Elementary.

“I think it’s really good because the economy is really bad and many of us can’t buy the things we need, so it makes me feel really good that there’s people willing to help you out,” Vega said.

Federal Way Deputy Chief Andy Hwang, who volunteered at the event with his wife and two children, said the department has held the event for the past 17 years. Three years ago, they partnered with Grace Church so they could reach more families in need.

Federal Way police this year raised $4,700 through a put-put golf tournament and donated those funds to the program. The Korum for Kids Foundation also contributed an additional $5,000.

About 80 volunteers also helped out during the event, which was also sponsored by Cash America, Woodstone Credit Union, Heritage Bank, Black Bear Diner, Soroptismist of Federal Way, H-Mart, Great Northwest Truck Show and the Kiwanis Club of Federal Way.

“I’ve seen a couple of parents come in and they have tears in their eyes,” said Brian Wilson, Federal Way police chief who also attended the event. “There may not be any words exchanged but to see how appreciative families are drives a lot of us.”

Wilson said the department is excited that they were able to help serve 60 families and they hope to double that number next year.

Gayle Tucker, a records specialist with the Federal Way Police Department, has been involved with the program since its inception.

“It’s all about the kids,” she said.

She recalled when the program first began, she would collect all the money the department raised and buy gifts from Walmart. She would bring the toys back to the office, where records staff would help her wrap the gifts.

“We had [an officer] dress up as Santa and deliver toys to families,” Tucker said. “He would just pull up to the house in a patrol car and the kids would see Santa getting out. It was great just seeing the look on kids’ faces as they saw Santa and said, ‘Wow, they are good guys.’

Jon McIntosh, the pastor of Grace Church who helped to organize the event with his wife Wendy, said one of the most valuable things to him about the program is it shows the community that police provide a level of care far beyond law enforcement.

But ultimately, it’s all about empowerment, he said.

The program empowers parents to choose their children’s Christmas presents, enables children to create presents for their parents and empowers the community to serve each other.

“We want to empower people,” said McIntosh, who is also a volunteer chaplain for the Federal Way Police Department. “It’s like throwing a rock in a pond. The ripples that go out of joy and fulfillment are far beyond the families who are being served.”


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