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Christmas is for Kids volunteers make holidays brighter for area youth and themselves

DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR

MARBLE FALLS — Allyson Black remembers how volunteering at Highland Lakes Christmas is for Kids all started a decade or more ago. Her friend Leni Kirkman, one of the initiators of the annual toy drive, invited her to help during one of the sorting-and-sacking events.

“The kids and I just loved it,” Black said. “And then, Mike (her husband), he thought it was one of the best things to do during the holidays. And, at first, I think we started doing it as a youth group project, but it became something we always did as a family.”

Christmas is for Kids became a holiday tradition for Black and her family, including kids Jacob and Emily Wiewick and Alex Black.

“We have a lot of families and people who have been volunteering with us year after year,” organizer Robben Thompson said. “But we can always use more.”

Along with volunteers, the annual toy drive, which provides Christmas presents for kids and families in Marble Falls and the southern Burnet County area, always has a need for monetary and toy donations. Even after Christmas.

“We shop all year round,” Thompson said. “We try to hit all the sales we can to stretch each dollar as far as we can.”

Last year, Christmas is for Kids served 243 families, which came out to 697 children. It’s all accomplished through donations and by volunteers.

Over the years, organizers learned they couldn’t just collect toys. Many children face the cold winter months with few warm clothes, so Thompson said she and volunteers such as Marietta Williams make sure to load up on fleece sweaters and jackets for the kids.

One of the highlights of the organization’s year comes during the annual sorting-and-sacking party. This is when volunteers converge on a Friday evening and a Saturday to get the toys, clothing and gifts ready for pick-up and delivery. This year, the sorting starts at 6 p.m. Dec. 20 at Marble Falls Middle School, 1511 Pony Circle Drive, followed by the sacking Dec. 21 starting at 9 a.m., also at the school.

Then, volunteers start handing the sackful of unwrapped presents to families outside the school at 1:30 p.m.

Black recalled how her own children, who now are adults, would pick up a Christmas list submitted by a child and begin gathering items.

“They would put themselves in those kids’ places so they could try to figure out what the child wanted,” Black said. Then, her kids would take each list and hunt among the stacks of gifts looking for just the right ones for each child. It wasn’t just about racing around to fill the sack and checking off another list but making sure each child got a special Christmas.

“I hope my kids learned to see that there are other kids in the community, even who go to school with them, who have so many needs and just might face a very bleak Christmas,” Black said.

Her daughter Emily now works at Reagan High School, an inner-city school in Austin, where she helps students prepare for life after high school, including college.

“So, I really think volunteering, whether with (Christmas is for Kids) or at something else, really makes a difference not only in the person getting the gifts, or whatever the volunteering is for, but also the volunteer him or herself.”

While Highland Lakes Christmas is for Kids has been serving area youth for more than a decade, each year is always a great year for people, families or organizations to get involved and maybe start their own tradition.

“It’s just something my family loves doing,” Black said. “Even after they graduated (from high school), they still came back and helped when they could.”

People interested in making a monetary donation can mail those to: Highland Lakes Christmas is for Kids, P.O. Box 1750, Marble Falls, TX 78654. Or, look around town for donation boxes.

Thompson said there’s no need to call ahead to register for volunteering during sorting and sacking, just show up.

“We’ll take as much or as little time as you have,” she said.

daniel@thepicayune.com

IF YOU HELP

WHAT: Sorting and sacking toys for Highland Lakes Christmas is for Kids

WHEN: Sorting is 6 p.m. Dec. 20, and sacking is 9 a.m. Dec. 21. Toys will be handed out 1:30 p.m. Dec. 21.

WHERE: Marble Falls Middle School, 1511 Pony Circle Drive in Marble Falls

FOR DONATIONS: Send monetary donations to Highland Lakes Christmas is for Kids, P.O. Box 1750, Marble Falls, TX 78654. Look for donation boxes around town for toys.