Filling space under the tree

Food bank distributes toys for Christmas to families in need

Kelly Sullivan

More than 100 children who may not have otherwise had presents to open Christmas morning were guaranteed to find gifts under their tree only an hour into this year’s Sky Valley Food Bank toy drive.

The event was held about a week before the holiday. Instead of taking bags home with miscellaneous knickknacks, as was the setup in the past, volunteers created a Winter Toyland in the storage area where parents could shop for their families.

Nayelie Garcia was accompanied by one of her four kids, Wendy Garcia, on Saturday, Dec. 16. When they walked in the front door, the mother registered and was handed a handful of tickets to spend per child. Items displayed on separate tables were valued at different amounts. The larger goodies were worth more vouchers.

It was Garcia’s first time attending the event. She was assisted by volunteer and personal shopper Natalie Rodriguez, who translated for her client, as she does not speak English as her first language. Garcia visits the food bank regularly to help feed her family.

SVFB executive director Cindy Chessie, who retired from the Monroe Police Department in June to take the job, decided to revise how the annual drive went off this year. She said historically families would take bags of gifts home, and the contents would not always align with a child’s age, interests or preferences.

Garcia liked the way the options were presented and that she could pick out her children’s gifts herself. Without the drive, the holiday would not have been the same, she said.

“It would have been way different, because there wouldn’t be presents for the kids,” Rodriguez said.

Melissa, who asked not to have her last name printed, has been a food bank client for about three years. She said she comes about once a month to make sure there is food on the table at home.

This season was also her first time at the toy drive. She said the holidays happened to fall within a major financial transition for her family this year. Melissa’s husband recently switched jobs, and the resulting lull between paychecks was just enough that the family was going to have trouble affording gifts on top of regular monthly expenses.

At the same time, Melissa is trying to grow her own small business, where she sells her hand-sewn baby items. She has been a vendor in shops on Main Street in the past, but now primarily sells online and works out of her home.

The food bank has been a good resource and support for her family, she said. Melissa was paired up with Mimi Sandoval that afternoon.

The food bank volunteer’s mother used to be a coworker of Chessie’s, which is how she found out about the toy drive. The college student said she saw it as a good way to give back to her community during the holidays.

Together, the two women were able to pick out presents that would be personal to Melissa’s children, like a hair crimper for her 12-year-old daughter, who is into trying out different styles right now. It will go well with the curler she already has, she said.

By the end of the day, gifts were secured for more than 400 children. Families were also able to shop at scheduled times throughout the week leading up to Christmas.

Once again, it took the community to pull it all off. Central Welding Supply dropped off more than 500 stuffed stockings for the kids this season, Chessie said. It is an annual tradition for the Marysville-based company, which also donates to other organizations around the region, she said.

Staff from Valley Electric Co., American Family Insurance Agent Sally Petty and members of the Star Touring and Riding Chapter 428 motorcycle club all brought toys in the weeks leading up to the event. Monroe Montessori School students hauled toy-filled wagons to drop off at the food bank before opening day.

“Our community demonstrated that when people join together for good, lives are forever changed,” the food bank posted in a message on social media following the food drive.

The food bank receives most of its donations during the holidays, from October through December. Once the new year hits, gifts often drop off, so those seasonal funds are often use throughout the year.

The local nonprofit purchases about 15,000 pounds of food for Sky Valley community members each month. Families took home about 85,000 pounds of food in November.

Distributions are held 9-11:30 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and 6-7 p.m. Monday evenings.


Photos by Kelly Sullivan: Central Welding Supply dropped off more than 500 stuffed stockings for the Sky Valley Food Bank’s annual toy drive on Saturday, Dec. 16. More than 100 children who may not otherwise have had presents to open Christmas morning were guaranteed to find gifts under their tree during this year’s Sky Valley Food Bank toy drive on Saturday, Dec. 16. Families were able to pick and choose the toys they brought home.


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