A community project that has made Christmas a little brighter for local families has found itself in uncertain times this year, and there aren’t answers as to why.

The Ellensburg Christmas basket program is in a state of flux, and with less than 10 weeks before the holiday comes, community members are scrambling to come up with a plan to keep the program viable. The program has historically adopted approximately 125 families that would receive the baskets, with another 500 families in the community receiving general boxes of supplies during the holiday season.

Local resident Nita Bowers has directed the program for more than 20 years and has stepped down from the task for 2019. Bowers was unavailable for comment, but clearly had a personal connection to the program. In a 2017 interview with the Daily Record, she talked fondly of a family she had helped through the program.

“Six kids got dropped off with just the clothes on their back,” Bowers said in the interview. “Grandma and grandpa were living modestly, so they really had nothing. We worked with them a couple of years in a row and now everyone’s blossomed and they’re doing so well. I still go and visit them.”

SURVIVAL PLANS

FISH Community Food Bank Executive Director Peggy Morache said she is in the process of sending out emails to local nonprofits in the attempt to form a consortium to keep the program afloat this year. Although the idea is in the pre-planning stages, she said it is her hope that the idea can help paint a picture of what the program could look like in future years, and what organizations are a good fit to keep the program running.

“Right now, it’s hard to say who is the logical group to take it,” she said. “I just thought about the consortium because right now there are a lot of people who are talking about wanting to see it happen. I thought that way, everybody could participate. If we have some sort of collaboration, then nobody gets left out. I want to make sure everybody that wants to be involved in it is involved in it.”

Morache said a meeting is being held at the food bank next Wednesday, the details of which have been posted on the Community Connect Facebook page. She hopes community members will attend the meeting and talk about their ideas for the program.

“We’ll just start there and figure out what needs to happen,” she said.

One goal Morache wants to see implemented is that the program is administered by a nonprofit, so that the funds and products donated by community members can be handled in a responsible and transparent fashion.

“We feel that that donations should be run through one of us,” she said. “A 501c3 that has transparency, that is audited, that knows how to keep the funds separate and use it for just one function.”

In the meantime, Morache said anyone interested in donating to the program can send their donation to the food bank and label it for the Christmas basket drive.

“Whoever ends up taking the lead will make sure they get that money,” she said.

Morache said she is confident that people will respond to the collaborative idea and come together to keep the program operating.

“I think that everybody’s just been waiting for someone to take the lead and pull it together,” she said. “That’s what we’re hoping we’re beginning to do now by getting this group together and talking about it.”

Drawing on her experience with the food bank, Morache said she knows that the program will find a way to survive in the spirit of compassion and support that is embodied among community members.

“No one in the community knows better than FISH how generous this community can be,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of concern out there that the baskets may be going away. Everyone realizes that there are people who rely on them here in this community, and we’ve got to find a way to make it happen every year.”

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