Holly House volunteers bring holiday cheer to local families

A volunteer moves donations into place.
A Holly House volunteer moves donations into place.
Arriving bright and early at a vacant building in Edmonds’ 5 Corners neighborhood Sunday morning, a group of volunteers were ready to make sure that Edmonds School District families in need would have a happier holiday season.
The occasion was the annual Holly House children’s holiday gift program, spearheaded by founder and Executive Director Pam Martinez.
As Monty Reed provides directions, Amy Hart signs in a volunteer.

“Our clients come to us sad, depressed and helpless,” Martinez told volunteers gathered for orientation prior to the start of Sunday’s event. “We want to treat them like they are gold. I just can’t stress enough how much they need us to be there for them.”

 As Holly House has done every year since its founding nine years ago, the non-profit organization distributed new toys, books, warm hats and scarves, pajamas, Christmas stockings, stuffed animals and blankets to families at the school district’s highest-poverty schools.

During its first year, Holly House served 260 families; this year, that number has grown to 2,200 families from 15 schools, Martinez said. Holly House volunteers collect donations year-round from individuals and businesses to be distributed during the holiday event; this year Mattel made a significant donation of new toys.

Reed and Holly House Founder Pam Martinez talk to volunteers.
Reed and Holly House Founder Pam Martinez talk to volunteers.

Parents were required to pre-register, and arrival times were staggered throughout the day to ensure smooth logistics, which were overseen by Monty Reed. Volunteers escorted parents through seven stations, where they had an opportunity to choose from a variety of presents for their children. In the case of parents with larger families, volunteers also assisted with managing the large trash bags used to carry the selections.

xxx and xxx help a cllient with her hat and scarf selections.
Shanjia Nesbitt and Leslie Smith help a client with hat and scarf options.

It was the second year of volunteering for Cherry Smith of Edmonds, who was situated at the pajama station while daughter Leslie, a freshman at Edmonds-Woodway High School, staffed the hat and scarves station. Also assisting with the hats was Shanjia Nesbitt, an eighth-grader at Meadowdale Middle School.

Parents choose a Seahawks shirt for one of their children.
A volunteer helps parents pick out a Seahawks sweatshirt for one of their children.

The gratitude was evident on the faces of those in line; one woman, who came with her husband to shop for their six children, returned to the building to give Martinez a hug. Many of those who benefit from the donations also volunteer for their event in an effort to give back. Lynnwood resident Oscar Vargas spent two days assisting Martinez and other volunteers with set-up, then came back Sunday morning to “shop” with his wife. “I like to help people,” he said. “It’s a very special time for me.”

Volunteer Ilene Jaffee at the book station.

Volunteer Ilene Jaffe, who works at Lynnwood Elementary as an English Language Learners (ELL) specialist, monitored a station piled high with books for all ages. She recalled seeing a boy who was part of a soccer team assisting with setup Saturday, and recalled that last year the boy’s family received gifts from Holly House. “I asked the mom if she’d be coming today and she said, ‘No need,'” Jaffe said. “Poverty or situations change and these families appreciate the help when they needed it.”

— Story and photos by Teresa Wippel

  1. Thank you to Pam and all the volunteers for supporting the families in need. An amazing transformation from the empty building I saw on Thursday, your hard work is greatly appreciated.

  2. This was our first time helping out and it was amazing! Our group had lots of fun and left with a feeling of Christmas joy!
    We also worked the forgotten children’s fund for many years, but it was nice to have all our staff be able to work together!Pam is wonderful to work with. Try this next year or at least donate some needed cash or gifts to make children happy next Christmas!

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