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It's an illusion: Christmas trees with decorations, carolers, eggnog — none of these is a true reflection of holiday spirit. But it can be found in the eyes of mother Rina Wilkes as she spots a …
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It's an illusion: Christmas trees with decorations, carolers, eggnog — none of these is a true reflection of holiday spirit. But it can be found in the eyes of mother Rina Wilkes as she spots a red wagon for her little boy, or in the voice of volunteer Joni Hargitt as she talks about the community that donated the wagon.
The 30th president, Calvin Coolidge, once said that Christmas is not a time or a season, but a state of mind. That very mind-set was strong among volunteers for the nonprofit Clear Creek County Holiday Project and in their Santa Shop last Friday and Saturday as they handed out gifts to parents who couldn't afford to buy them for their children.
Now in its third year, the Holiday Project provides donated toys, clothing and gift certificates for county residents who have fallen on hard times. This year the nonprofit saw a 35 percent increase in families seeking assistance, while donations for the year were down.
The Santa Shop is providing Christmas for 90 local families — with a total of 200 children.
Many of the gifts are provided by the community for the community and placed under Christmas trees around the county, each adorned with specific toy requests.
The Santa Shop, in a donated space off Highway 103, offers age-specific toys and clothing in its various rooms. There's a waiting room for children so parents can clandestinely select gifts. The children get to meet with a volunteer Santa and select presents for their moms and dads, which the children can then wrap.
One young girl paces with anticipation, knowing her own parent and a volunteer are in the process of picking out gifts from the many tables piled high with new toys. It's only noon, and she's at the tale end of more than 20 other families that came to the Santa Shop on Friday morning. The donations are constantly circulated on the tables by volunteers, so the little girl's chances of receiving a top-notch present are good.
The Santa Shop is just one piece in the Holiday Project's larger mission, which also includes donations for seniors and Thanksgiving assistance.
The Holiday Project's board is made up of people from a variety of community sectors that make it their full-time job during December, and start planning as early as July.
"It really is our life for December," said local business owner and Holiday Project board member Carmen Barker. "Our families are either involved with us or understand this is really our Christmas. We are here every day, and then when this is all finished, next week begins our senior projects."
Barker says that by the time the parents leave the Santa Shop and their CDOT-donated orange bag is full, they've got a Christmas complete with wrapping paper.
"We don't have people (here) that can go out and have a Christmas or have family support," Barker says. "We really try to narrow this down and give to people that would not have a Christmas otherwise."
Parents in need of assistance can sign up for the Santa Shop in a variety of ways, including through human services, the Clear Creek Community Service Center, the Clear Creek County Advocates and law enforcement. Schools also provide the nonprofit with names of those in need.
"Most of our clients are pretty needy; I mean, these are people who don't have a lot of resources, which is why they are with us," said volunteer and board member Sharon Blum.
Rina Wilkes has almost cried several times while walking around the Santa Shop's toy rooms. Now, with a bright red wagon in tow, she thanks the volunteers on her way out. She's heading next door to Loaves and Fishes to pick up a box of food for her family.
"(The Santa Shop) is awesome; it is definitely awesome — it came in handy for us this year," Wilkes said. "The community that gives to this organization is just amazing."
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