While thousands of shoppers are bustling around stores today, standing in lines and arguing over who the last 52-inch television belongs to, nonprofits around Douglas County are hoping to have enough volunteers and donations to fulfill their large wish lists.
Project Santa Claus, Young At Heart and Austin’s House are just a few who help the county’s youngest and oldest residents have a merry Christmas.
Austin’s House is an emergency shelter for children, and can accommodate 10 children ages 0-18 at any given time. There is no limit on the length of stay, however, children stay an average of 50 days.
“Because Austin’s House doesn’t know exactly what children will be with us for the holidays, the gift of a gift card is a great option. We shop until Christmas Eve,” Executive Director Kathleen Miller said. “We try as much as possible to not give generic gifts. That’s why gift cards are so important, so the gift they receive says ‘You’ve taken the time to get to know who I am.’”
Since being away from family on Christmas is hard on anybody, Austin’s House strives to provide its residents with a memorable Christmas.
“Our philosophy on Christmas has evolved over time. We figured out quickly that what’s respectful to the children is to have a modest celebration,” Miller said. “They are not with family, and that it is very poignant at Christmas. We try to make it fun. We do a lot of decorating, baking and more outings.”
Craft kits, like bracelet-making are welcome, as are Lego sets (with people) for boys and girls, original Legos, Barbies and clothes. My Little Ponies, Transformers, Skylanders toys and sets, and puzzles are popular with the younger children as well.
For the teenage residents, large make-up bags for girls and toiletry bags for boys, manicure sets, nail polish and nail stickers make good gifts. Coffee, fast food restaurants or movie gift cards are nice, too.
“The teens don’t have access to money, so having a $5 gift card makes them feel like a typical kid,” Miller said, “plus it gives them a sense of control.”
Miller also recommends buying boys or girls wallets, zippered duffel bags, and slipper socks for boys and girls in all sizes.
“We give presents to pretty much anybody who leaves here during the month of December,” Miller said. “We start Christmas off pretty early.”
Donations can be dropped off at the facility 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday by calling 267-6711.
For the last eight years, the Young At Heart Senior Citizens Club has delivered Christmas to 150 homebound seniors thanks to community donations.
“It means that they know somebody has remembered them at Christmas time, a time when family and friends gather together,” club president Marion Barritt said. “It’s personal contact they don’t get on an everyday basis.”
Ideas on the club’s list include socks for men and women, gloves, hats, scarves, lap blankets, soap, lip balm, shampoo, body/hand lotion, hand cream and sanitizers, toothbrushes, toothpaste, washcloths, towels, dish towels, candy (regular and for diabetics), small boxes of cookies/crackers, small hand held magnifying glasses, night lights, puzzles, puzzle books, playing cards and calendars.
“Please, no used clothes,” Barritt requested, “but definitely anything else you’d give your grandparents to make their Christmas happy.”
Signed Christmas cards, handmade items such as knitted gifts like scarves, hats and lap blankets big enough to cover and tuck in around elders sitting in a recliner or wheel chair, are appreciated as well.
“The cards are a personal touch,” Barritt said. “The key thing is letting them know you’re thinking of them at Christmas time. That’s the main thing.”
Barritt remembered when her 87-year-old mother received a gift bag.
“I was at her house when there was a knock on the door,” Barritt said. “When he presented her with the package, she was surprised and overjoyed. She loved going through every item.”
Students from Douglas High School deliver the bags Dec. 12.
Gifts must be at the Douglas County Senior Center, 2300 Meadow Lane in Gardnerville by Dec. 6. The phone number is 783-6455.
Money donations are welcomed also. Checks should be payable to YAH, marked ‘Christmas Bags’ and mailed to: YAH, c/o Douglas Country Senior Center, 2300 Meadow Lane, Gardnerville 89410.
Call or email Marion Barritt at 782-7353, or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Project Santa Claus shopper Dayleen Weaver has spent the last 16 years helping to bring Christmas to thousands of children and families.
“My mom was doing it, and I started helping her,” Weaver said. “Now I have kids and they help me shop. It’s kind of been a family tradition.”
The Gardnerville resident and her daughters shop for any last-minute sign-ups and “angels” not taken from the Angel Trees.
“It’s a lot of shopping. We come out of the store with six shopping carts, and we do at least four or five trips,” Weaver said. “We try really hard to get as close to what they ask for, because sometimes it’s all that these kids get for Christmas.”
The Project Santa Claus program provides Christmas gifts to Douglas County children in need from newborn to age 15. Last year, 714 children from 315 Douglas County families received Christmas presents, and organizers said they are expecting to have close to the same number of children signed up this year.
“We’re just a part of this wonderful program, and we’re very blessed to be a part of it,” Weaver said. “I enjoy the feeling of giving back and the anticipation of knowing we helped to make their Christmas special.”
Weaver and her daughters, Lexie, 18, Mandy, 16, and Aleeah, 8, dedicate the week before Christmas to full-time Project Santa Claus shopping.
“They love doing this. It’s the biggest part of Christmas for us,” Weaver said. “It’s really special knowing how many lives we’re touching.”
Angel Trees are set up at businesses all over Douglas County with a child’s first name, age, hobbies, clothes size, and Christmas wish list included on each tag. Wrapped gifts must be returned to the Angel Tree location by Dec. 16. If you are unable to get to an Angel Tree location, you can drop off new unwrapped gifts at the fairgrounds on Dec. 15.
Along with shoppers, the project needs volunteers to sort, consolidate, and wrap presents Dec. 15-19 at the Douglas County Fairgrounds building. Volunteers can work any hours they choose from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monetary donations may be mailed to Project Santa Claus at P.O. Box 3031, Gardnerville, NV. 89410.