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Making Christmas wishes come true

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012 | Posted by

Susan Oleari of Cloverdale XPress Oil Service, chooses a Christmas Wish tag from the tree at ACE Hardware while Vivian Tamayo, Cary Fraser and Iris Konik look on. (Mary Jo Winter)


By MARY JO WINTER / Cloverdale TOWNS Correspondent

Thanks to some very hard working and dedicated “elves,” and the generosity of the Cloverdale community, nearly 300 low-income children will have a brighter Christmas again this year.

For the 14th year, Christmas trees with children’s wishes attached were placed in six Cloverdale businesses, as well as at the Clover Springs Lodge. Residents were invited to choose one or more of the cards, buy one or more items on the list, and return them unwrapped for later pick up.

Originally started by Laurie Siebenthal under the auspices of Cloverdale Family Service, the Christmas Wish Program eventually grew too big for one person and a small group of volunteers to do by themselves.

Even in a small community like Cloverdale, this is a monumental undertaking. Not only do families need to apply and be pre-qualified, the tags and wish lists need to be compiled, the trees need to be put into the different businesses and the tags need to be replenished as others are chosen.

Later, the donated toys, games and clothing need to be picked up, sorted, wrapped and tagged before they can be distributed to the appropriate families for their children.

Cash donations are often received instead of actual wish list items. This means organizers do a lot of shopping, as well, trying to ensure that each child’s wish is fulfilled and no child is left disappointed on Christmas morning.

In 2006, Siebenthal made a presentation to the Rotary Club asking for help. Iris Konik, then manager of Les Ryan, Century 21 Realty, brought the idea back to her staff and they agreed to take it over.

For the next couple of years, the Century 21 group, with Konik at the helm, and assisted by Cary Fraser and Vivian Tamayo, served as a bridge to keep the program going until it could be developed into more of a community service-type project.

This is exactly what happened four years ago. Today, the Lions Club donates the toys collected from their annual Motorcycle Run, and the Cloverdale High School Interact Club and Key Club help with fundraising and gift wrapping.

Stuffed animals are shared with the Cloverdale Police Department to hand out as needed, and left over toys go to the Cloverdale Fire Department, who does their own special distribution to a number of needy families on Christmas Day.

Despite trying to keep the number of children served to around 200, the numbers continue to grow – partly because Konik has a hard time turning anyone away. This year alone there are 278 children, newborn to 10 years old, who will benefit from the Christmas Wish Program.

It’s a lot of work, so why do they do it year after year?

“We do this for the moms who start crying when they see what their children are getting. There are plenty of families who would not be able to afford Christmas for their kids otherwise.

“But we also do it for the community,” she adds. “We have seen parents bring their kids in to choose a tag so they can go shopping together, knowing they are fulfilling a wish for someone less fortunate.

“We even have several people in town who take tags for families with multiple children and then go out and buy every single item on each list. It’s absolutely amazing.”

While it’s too late to choose a tag from any of the trees this year, monetary donations are always welcome and can be made to the Cloverdale Christmas Wish Program c/o Exchange Bank. For more information, call either 494-8782 or 291-7707.

Konik, who recruited her daughter Nadia to help with the shopping this year, says she always worries that all the tags won’t be taken. So far, though, her worries have been totally unfounded.

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Mary Jo Winter is our Cloverdale correspondent.
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