Cloverdale’s Christmas Wish program has been a staple in the local holiday season for a long time.
“It seems like forever, but I know it hasn’t been forever,” said Iris Konik, who has helped organize the collection of toys for low-income families since at least 2006. Before that, the event had been started and organized by Laurie Siebenthall, Konik said.
The Christmas Wish program is responsible for about seven wooden trees that get put up at various locations throughout Cloverdale during the holiday season. The trees are adorned with green tags with information detailing Christmas gift wishes that local kids have — each tag lists two toys and one item of clothing. Then community members pick up the tags and go shopping for the kids.
From there, a group of 10 volunteers — self-named “Christmas elves,” sort through the donated items and match them up with the respective wishes.
The number of kids signed up to receive gifts fluctuates but has been trending down over time. At its peak, Konik said she thought about limiting the number of tags to 200 kids. This year they only had 120 wishes to fulfill.
To qualify to be part of the Christmas Wish program, families need to be approved for the reduced-priced school lunch program, Konik said. While it used to be that the program took care of gifts for kids up to age 10, now kids up to age 12 can have their Christmas wishes posted on a tree.
“This year unfortunately we had a lot of tags that weren’t taken,” Konik said. “Then we check what toys we got from the Toy Run.”
The Cloverdale Lions Club’s annual Toy Run has the donation of new toys woven into its admission cost, and the club donates those toys to the Christmas Wish program. In year’s past the number of toy donations has been vast, with so many being donated that the club was able to donate extras to the local fire department, or last year, to children impacted by the Paradise Fire.
This year, however, the rain on Sunday, Dec. 1, led to lower attendance at the Toy Run — and subsequently fewer toy donations.
Konik said that the program is still equipped to fulfill all of the wishes, thanks to monetary donations that the program has received over the years.
For Konik, one of the most beneficial parts of helping put the Christmas Wish program together is seeing the reactions on the faces of the adults picking up the Christmas gifts.
“The good thing is when the parents or the mother picks it up, when they start crying when they see all the presents,” she said. “That’s why we’re doing it. We’re doing it for the people who really, really appreciate it.”
“It’s for the kids, of course, and for those who really don’t have much. We do it for them,” she continued, stating that the program benefits those taking tags as well. “And then it’s for the families who love to go shopping with their kids as well. The people who buy and who give us the gifts, some of them don’t really have much themselves and they go with their kids to pick up the tags and go shopping and show their kids that not everybody has everything.”
For volunteer Liz Spitzer, the most memorable part of helping with the program is signing up families and helping kids formulate their gift requests.
“I have great fun with helping the children with their requests and watching their faces,” she said. “That’s what I love — I love seeing the kids.”
Spitzer has been helping with the program since 2010, but had been interested in helping with the Toy Run since her husband joined the Lions Club after they moved to town 20 years ago. Now, her husband is one of the organizers of the Toy Run.
“Of course I’m doing it for the kids,” she said. “It’s important to make certain that there are gifts on Christmas morning for them to unwrap.”