The giving came from all over and concluded in daylight.
A flock of volunteers packed, loaded and delivered toys and food in the Hood River Christmas Project, all before 4 p.m. on Saturday night.
Home before dark was the bonus in “a total community effort,” according to organizers Irv and Sherril Smith.
“We had lots of volunteers this year,” Irv said. “That made it happen well before dark this year. Recruiting volunteers is probably the biggest lesson we learned last year. We couldn’t do it without them.”
“The response was really good, we had lots of people from the community coming forward and offering to help,” Sherril Smith said. The Smiths, finishing their second year as coordinators, credited the entire committee of the non-profit Christmas Project for its efforts.
Sherril said the value of months of work is seen in single moments like one on Saturday:
“One man came in at the end of the day and said to the person getting his food, ‘you don’t know what it means to my family.’ That kind of thing makes it worthwhile,” Sherril said.
“There has been a wonderful outpouring,” said Pamela Munos, who coordinated toy donations. “Our community knows the need. Hood River has opened its hearts and come out and helped.”
People gave a total of nearly 2,000 toys, meeting the goal of at least one present for each person served, Munos said.
Giving, as well as receiving, created joy for local residents. Volunteer Bobbie Norton reported that a woman with her two children came to the Expo Center, the project distribution center, with a box of toys.
“She thanked us for doing this. That makes you feel really good,” Norton said.
More than 100 people helped out in some way, in addition to the hundreds of people who donated canned goods, bought toys, and sponsored families.
“There were more volunteers than last year,” Sherril said. “We had volunteers who helped in the application process which was essential because we needed bilingual folks. We had a number of people who came down to pack and sort food. We had them delivering baskets and calling people to remind them to come down, towards the end of the day they needed to come that day to collect their baskets.”
Preliminary figures show a total of 368 families and 87 seniors assisted, which was fewer than last year, but a number of the families were larger, Sherril said.
“Sometimes families are having extended families staying with them,” Smith said. With other adults in the home the project supplied more food, she added.
“Until you do something like this,” said volunteer Sherrie Chevron, “you don’t realize how many people there are in need.”
About 130 of the recipients were directly sponsored by families, churches, schools, businesses, and other groups. This expanded the project’s ability to provide for every family’s needs, Sherril said.
Schools throughout Hood River County came through with large donations of food, she said. Hood River Valley High School students raised a record 12,400 food items, and 20 percent of that went to the Christmas Project — the rest to FISH Food Bank. Toys came from every major store in Hood River, and Heights Business Association members.
“It was a record year,” said Bob Kadell, Leadership teacher at HRVHS. “We really want to thank the community.” The winners of the class competition will be announced on Jan. 17, Kadell said. At that assembly, co-principal Steve Fisk will have his legs shaved — since the students met his 10,000 can challenge. For hitting 12,000, Fisk and dean of students Brent Emmons will camp out on the school roof for a night.
“The schools were a great help this year,” Smith said. “What’s so amazing is not which group is doing it but that it’s a total community effort.” She added that families from Cascade Locks were sponsored, joining Cascade Locks City Hall and fire department relief campaigns.
The Smiths said offers of help are still coming in.
“Even after the boxes were distributed, people are still coming forth wanting to help,” Sherril said. “Sometimes its funds, and we’ve been offered some gift certificates and we’ll see they get to people who are still in need. She said the committee will make requests for help to local businesses and organizations early in 2003 “so those who do budgeting for a full year will have a reminder,” and start the Christmas Project up again in September.
Now that the project is over for the year, the Smiths will celebrate with a surprise Santa visit to their grandchildren.