by Staff Writer
Christmas will be arriving early for hundreds of West Hill and South King County area youth this Saturday as Renton Area Youth and Family Services (RAYS) kicks off it’s annual winter Holiday Festival at Renton High School.
The festival, going strong for over a decade, has traditionally treated members of the West Hill community to a breakfast painstakingly cooked by volunteer chefs, a festive atmosphere for congregating with neighbors new and old and a toy giveaway towards the conclusion of the event.
“As joyous as the holidays can be for some, we also know they can be tough for several families who are going through trying times. We want to provide an atmosphere that is fun and relaxing for them for a few hours,“ says Morgan Wells, who helped orchestrate the event in her role as the Director of RAYS’ Cynthia A. Green Family Center.
In that vein, Wells and other event organizers – primarily members of the West Hill/Skyway community – decided to eliminate the toy dispersal that had punctuated the festival in years past.
Wells cites not only the harsh economic realities faced by many of RAYS’ partner organizations (such as the Toys for Tots program) that made it difficult to secure enough toys to make sure that no child left the event empty handed, but also matters of practicality and perceived fairness.
“There would be times that some kids would leave with these large presents, while other kids left with something really small. It’s a natural tendency of kids to compare the size of gifts and it made some of them feel like they were getting left with table scraps and the last thing we wanted to do was put a damper on this event for anyone by making them feel inadequate,” says Wells.
So, instead of toys that Wells says might be played with once, the 500 children expected to attend Saturday’s festival will be given gifts that have utility throughout the winter. Event organizers received an outpouring of community support over the last two months in collecting coats, jackets, mittens, blankets and gloves from community members and local area businesses during a warm clothing drive to distribute at the festival.
They also had assistance from the local business community as Sanmar, Kelly Imaging, Boeing, Masins Furniture Store and First Savings Bank made generous financial donations to the festival.
Organizers hope that the slight change will provide a renewed focus on community spirit in an area that has been working to improve social cohesion between disparate groups of neighbors for some time. This is why they made a concerted effort to make community resources available at the event. Community partners include Cierra Sisters, Skyway Solutions, Skyway Fire District 20, Somali Youth and Family Club, Hearts for Humanity and The Skyway Boys and Girls Club.
Along with a hot meal and resources, there will be fun and games. Lowe’s is setting up a “Build and Grow” for the occasion and the Renton High Basketball team will be there to help youth perfect their free throws and lay ups.
Wells and company were also able to secure the participation of one rather busy North Pole resident – though they remain mum on just how they were able to convince the overloaded Santa Claus to entertain West Hill area youth for a couple of hours on Saturday.
“These kids are important, what can I say, and we really want to make every effort to make sure they feel that way,” shared Wells.