Community steps up for kids


By Sue Cody

When a child opens a gift on Christmas, she might not know that the whole community came together to bring her some cheer. Around 440 children were served by the Astoria Knappa Wishing Tree Program this year and another 100 had family sponsorship's.

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Almost everyone has seen the little yellow bells on trees in banks and businesses around Astoria and Knappa. Each bell represents a child in need of a gift for the holiday season. Volunteers, led by Denise Cleveland, work behind the scenes for program.

Request forms go home with children from school and are available at Clatsop Community Action (CCA) and Department of Human Services in early November. It is a need-based program, Cleveland says. Before Thanksgiving, the trees go up, so people can take advantage of the Black Friday sales.

Following the bell

Volunteers gather the request forms and create a bell for each child, listing his or her age, gender, request, clothes and shoe sizes. Requests range from something as simple as a blanket, to a high-flying drone.

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Shannon Ross chose a couple of bells off the tree at the North Coast Fred Meyer. She has a teenage son and says, “I always try to pick an older girl and a boy. Everyone seems to choose the little kids.”

She likes the idea of strangers being able to help others. “It nice to teach kids to be generous and for kids to have access to fun stuff at Christmas.”

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Unwrapped gifts are left under the Wishing Tree, where volunteers pick up the packages and deliver them to the fairgrounds.

Geri Fick and Kathy Sasso, along with others, have organized tables so each child has a number that corresponds to the Wishing Bell. Gifts are grouped by family. When the bell is returned to the fairgrounds, volunteers can set gifts on the assigned tables.

This year, Sasso created a database, so when someone walked in with baby clothes, she easily found the families who had a child the right age for the gifts.

“This is a good team,” says Fick. “It is nice to have one chief, but the whole community is involved. Lots of businesses and organizations contribute and volunteer. Twenty people from Rotary brought gifts. Businesses combined to sponsor 65 kids. Others sponsor entire families.”

This year, 75 to 80 percent of the bells were returned in time for delivery Dec. 19. “That is a great return,” says Cleveland.

There are plenty of donations to supplement areas that might be a little sparse. Because of the generosity of the community, all the families will have something for the holidays.

On pickup day, bikes line one wall. Donations from a clothes drive by the Astoria School District classified union are available. The gifts from the wishing trees are hidden in black plastic garbage bags. Air National Guardsmen line up with shopping carts to load gifts and assist people outside.

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“This is an awesome tradition,” Guardsman Wayne Doyle says.

After many, many hours of volunteer work, Fick says, “This is very gratifying. This is the payoff.”

“It’s nice to put a smile on someone’s face just by giving a gift,” says Cleveland.