Despite a rocky start, a community holiday tradition is still going strong and could use some helping hands in the coming days.

The annual community Christmas basket program was left in a state of limbo this year with the departure of program organizer Nita Bowers, but various organizations have stepped up and doubled down on their commitment to make the holidays bright for local families in need.

The Lower County portion of the program is being spearheaded by FISH Food Bank and is in full swing at the moment. FISH Executive Director Peggy Morache said 146 families signed up for the program this year, and they were able to get every one of them adopted. The food bank needs volunteers next week to sort items and get the baskets ready for distribution, which will happen on Dec. 19 and 20. Jerrol’s and Kittitas County Fire and Rescue are helping with the distribution effort.

“We are adding things to the boxes as necessary,” Morache said. “We have had individual donations of toys and clothes and things. What we’re doing is looking at the boxes and seeing if there are enough toys for the children and all of that, and then adding as we can or as we see necessary.”

The deadline for donations to the Lower County effort is Friday. Morache said the most useful donation at this point is cash, and that anyone interested in donating can write a check to the food bank, clearly noting on the check that it is designated for the Christmas basket program. She said any donated funds that are not used for this year’s effort will be carried over to next year’s basket program.

Looking back over the combined effort during the fall to keep the program on its feet, Morache said the outpouring of support is emblematically characteristic of Kittitas County residents.

“As far as my expectations for the way this community would respond, it’s been everything I expected and more,” she said. “I’ve come to expect generosity from this community, and that’s what we got.”

Morache said the food bank has been in discussions with local Rotary clubs about creating a partnership for the program moving forward. If the partnership materializes, she said the Rotary clubs would handle the solicitation and distribution of gifts, while the food bank would handle the administrative side of the program. Regardless of what form program leadership takes in the coming years, Morache said it is imperative that local organizations work together to keep the program viable.

“I don’t think anyone wants a child to wake up Christmas morning and not find gifts under the tree,” she said. “I think we’re all committed to making sure this goes forward forever.”

UPPER COUNTY PROGRAM

A team of volunteers will be gathering at the Putnam Centennial Senior Center in Cle Elum Thursday to sort and prepare Christmas boxes for approximately 80 families for distribution on Friday. Center Activities Director Susan Klein said the center is still receiving calls from people in need of help for the holidays.

“We try to do it two weeks or so before (Christmas), so that people know what they’re getting and how they can plan the rest of what they need to get for their families.”

Unlike the Lower County program, no organizational changes have been made to the Upper County effort. Klein said they partner with KXLE’s Million Penny Drive for donations on a yearly basis, and that the program has stayed consistent.

“It is exactly the same up here,” she said. “We do the families here; people can come and adopt a family if they want or just donate money to help with food and gifts if they want. Everything’s the same here in Upper County.”

Klein said it is never too late to donate to the program, and that the funds get put into a specific Christmas account that carries over each year. She said donations from individuals and businesses are what keep the program sustainable, and she is committed to keeping things that way.

“The program will always keep going, as long as I am alive,” she said.

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