Merry Christmas Issaquah benefits diverse clientele

December 20, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

Issaquah Community Services, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people in need, has seen a change in clients in recent years.

Clients at Issaquah Community Services included a local veteran of the Iraq conflict. The organization helped the man — a husband and father facing post-traumatic stress disorder and combat-related injuries in addition to financial troubles — pay rent for the family.

Military benefits did not cover the family’s everyday expenses. Ongoing searches for jobs — for the veteran and his wife — also created financial strain.

“For my family, we don’t qualify for food stamps or any government assistance,” he said.

Merry Christmas Issaquah

2011 goal: $65,000

To date: $37,801

How to help

Help by making a tax-deductible donation to Issaquah Community Services. The organization is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Send donations to Merry Christmas Issaquah, c/o The Issaquah Press, P.O. Box 1328, Issaquah, WA 98027. The names of donors — but not amounts — are published in The Press unless anonymity is requested.

Issaquah Community Services President Marilyn Taylor said the economic downturn in 2008 increased demand for the organization’s assistance.

“There was just a dramatic increase over the previous year,” she said. “It was just incredible. It has maintained and gone up some.”

Issaquah Community Services is the all-volunteer nonprofit organization responsible for dispersing donations to families living inside Issaquah School District boundaries. Merry Christmas Issaquah is the organization’s most important fundraiser of the year.

“It’s so hard for people to ask for help,” Taylor said. “It depends on the culture and the age of the person. Sometimes, they just do without because they don’t want to go anywhere and ask.”

The organization relies on a trained team to assist people in need — especially if the person requesting assistance is embarrassed or reluctant.

“I know how hard it is to ask,” Taylor said. “All of us volunteers, we could be in your place one day. There’s not much separating us. Somehow you just have to draw on that inner strength, because people want to help you — but it’s still difficult for some of them to ask.”

The experience at the Issaquah Community Services office impressed the Iraq veteran.

“After they helped me out with the rent and got me caught up, they actually called and checked up on me afterwards,” he said. “It’s not one of those places that will help you out and then say, ‘Hey, stop bugging us.’”

Issaquah Community Services helped 503 families from October 2010 to October 2011. Holiday donations through Merry Christmas Issaquah enable the organization to help people in the coming year.

The fund has received more than $700,000 in donations since starting in 1981. The holiday fundraising drive accounts for about 65 percent of Issaquah Community Services’ annual budget.

The city provides office space and overhead, so 100 percent of donations go to people in need.

Merry Christmas Issaquah set a record last year as 215 donors contributed $66,297. The goal for the 2011 fundraising drive is $65,000.

Still, Issaquah Community Services sometimes struggles to meet the outsized demand.

“Merry Christmas Issaquah is Issaquah Community Services,” Taylor said. “If it weren’t for the Merry Christmas Issaquah fund, we probably wouldn’t still be around.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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