Volunteers inspire Merry Christmas Issaquah success

December 4, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

The nonprofit organization Issaquah Community Services encounters clients in times of need.

Sometimes, a landlord is threatening eviction, or a utility is about to turn off electricity. In some cases, assistance is needed to fund unexpected medical or repair expenses.

Milicent Savage, Issaquah Community Services president, said the organization’s volunteers fill a critical role. The organization relies on a trained team to assist people in need — especially if the person requesting assistance is embarrassed or reluctant.

“It’s an army of good people,” she said.

Issaquah Community Services is operated by about 25 volunteers. Throughout the year, volunteers offer aid to Issaquah School District residents in need.

Savage said the organization attracts people interested in giving back to the community.

2012 goal: $75,000

To date: $15,607

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.

“They’re good listeners and they want to share,” Savage said. “We’re a good community of volunteers. You can always call any of the volunteers at any time and they’re willing to give their opinion or help out.”

Issaquah Community Services is the all-volunteer nonprofit organization responsible for dispersing the donations to families living inside Issaquah School District boundaries.

Merry Christmas Issaquah is the organization’s most important fundraiser all year. Organizers set a $75,000 goal for 2012.

The organization offers rent assistance if eviction is imminent, help with utility bills if the provider is threatening shutoff, or emergency transportation.

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

Merry Christmas Issaquah — spearheaded by The Issaquah Press since 1981 — set a donation record last year, but the $77,362 raised could barely meet demand. The number of donors last year, 231, also set a record.

Issaquah Community Services faced increased demand for aid — so great the organization shut down for more than a week in June after exhausting funds for the month.

The organization reopened to clients in July, but demand remains high, and leaders asked the public to consider donations in order for Issaquah Community Services to continue providing aid.

The holiday fundraising drive accounts for about 65 percent of Issaquah Community Services’ annual budget.

Recipients said donations from the organization come at a critical time, after other options dry up and disappear.

The fund has received more than $785,000 in donations since starting in 1981.

In 2011, Issaquah Community Services provided more than $88,000 in assistance to local families — in the form of rent and utility assistance, or in some cases for bus fare.

Savage said the essential skill for volunteers is to talk with clients to determine how the organization can help.

“You end up talking to them for a little bit and hearing their story,” she said.

The organization helped hundreds of families throughout the year, including a family searching for rent assistance.

The mother and daughter had numerous job interviews but remained unable to find work. Issaquah Community Service offered rent aid to keep them in their apartment for another month as they searched for jobs.

The next month, Issaquah Community Services volunteers received a call from the daughter asking for housing referrals because they had been evicted. The organization provided phone numbers to help them locate shelters and housing.

The level of follow-up attention is typical for Issaquah Community Services volunteers.

“They care about the people and they follow up later on things,” Savage said. “It’s not always cut and dried.”

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