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Arlington toy store serves families in need
ARLINGTON — The second floor of the Arlington American Legion Post 76 again served as the site for the holiday toy store serving the client families of the Arlington Community Food Bank, on the afternoon and evening of Dec. 18, but according to the annual event’s volunteer organizers, it almost didn’t happen this year.
Operation Christmas Hope, an affiliation of banks and other businesses throughout Arlington and Smokey Point, stepped up to collect for and coordinate the toy store this year, after the Arlington American Legion was unable to continue its more-than-20-year run of conducting the collection drives and distribution of toys for needy families in Arlington.
Tina Davis, of the Union Bank branch in downtown Arlington, served as one of the coordinators of this year’s Operation Christmas Hope, and she was joined by more than 30 fellow volunteers in helping the parents and guardians of close to 700 children pick out toys for all ages of boys and girls on Dec. 18.
“Each of our families were able to pick out one large toy, one toy each for every boy and girl, a piece of clothing, a game for the whole family and some stocking stuffers,” Davis said. “Everybody’s been very generous. Walmart gave us $1,000, and when we went to purchase our toys there, they gave us one toy free for every 10 that we bought. [Arlington Walmart manager] Fritz Fittinger is awesome. He told his checkers to be generous with us.”
Davis likewise lauded Union Bank for donating $750 and Bank of America for donating $550, and credited all the financial institutions in Arlington and Smokey Point with reaching out to their customers and fellow area businesses. She noted that community service clubs contributed toys, clothes, gift cards and money to the total haul, while the Arlington Community Food Bank sent its big truck around to all the participating banks and other collection sites on the afternoon of Dec. 17.
“So many people helped carry all this stuff into the Legion building and up the 25 steps to its second floor,” Davis said. “We’ve also had volunteers do everything from shopping to setting up the toy store, and guiding parents through choosing just the right toys and wrapping. We have a truly awesome community that pulls together whenever there’s a need.”
Davis likewise expressed her appreciation to the Chase, Coastal Community, Key, Skagit State and Whidbey Island banks, as well as the Mountain Crest Credit Union, the Arlington Boys & Girls Club, Arlington Chiropractic, Arlington Hardware & Lumber, Arlington Youth Cheer, the Cascade Valley Hospital Foundation, Environmental Abate Service and the Legion.
“The Arlington Pizza Factory even did a vendor fair fundraiser for us on Dec. 8,” Davis said. “When we first heard about this need, we checked with our own staff members to start with, and they were willing to do it. We simply couldn’t have done this without everyone’s help.”
Davis felt a strong emotional connection to this cause because of the community support that her family had received during her teenage years, when her father was diagnosed with cancer, but even as someone who’d received a Christmas basket of food and gifts when she was younger, she was still struck by the degree of need that exists in Arlington.
“It was a surprising eye-opener,” Davis said. “The folks at the food bank deal with this all the time, but for the rest of us volunteers to learn that we have 700 children in need in the small community of Arlington alone was a shock. It shows how much we take for granted.”
Amy Butchart, of the Arlington Community Food Bank, estimated that the toy store’s tables full of goodies would be just enough to cover all the children in the area whose families have received holiday food baskets from the food bank.
“The number of families we’ve served this holiday season has increased by about 100 since this time last year,” Butchart said. “We’re seeing more clients throughout the year in general.”
For that reason, Butchart described herself as “thrilled” to have Operation Christmas Hope partnering with the Arlington Community Food Bank.
“When we filled up the food bank truck on [Dec. 17], we could barely even close the doors,” Butchart said. “It was filled to the brim with toys, bikes, sports equipment, clothing and blankets, all of which will go to kids who might not have had a Christmas otherwise.”
Elizabeth Canfield believes that she and her fiancé, Steven Oxstien, could have provided one small present each to the two children they’re raising together, but anything beyond that would have been pushing their luck.
“We’re both looking for work,” Canfield said. “We’ve gotten help from our families, but they’re living in diminished circumstances themselves. I wasn’t expecting the toy store to be like this. There’s such a variety of stuff here.”
“I’m just so grateful to be part of a community that wants to give this much,” Davis said.