Merry Christmas Issaquah strengthens community ties

December 11, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Since the economy entered a nosedive in 2008, and throughout the fragile recovery since, volunteers at Issaquah Community Services keep hearing a familiar story.

The breadwinner for a household, laid off during the recession, needs help to make ends meet. The volunteers listen and, in many cases, offer assistance to pay the rent or to keep the electricity on.

Milicent Savage, Issaquah Community Services president, remembers the stories from two men recently at the organization’s office.

The men, both fathers and husbands, needed assistance to cover rent expenses for the month. Savage recalled how one man — a former Microsoft employee now working as a custodian — broke down.

“He cried because he was there having to ask,” she said.

2012 goal: $75,000

To date: $23,347

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.

On the Web

Miller Family Dermatology, 450 N.W. Gilman Blvd., Suite 301A, is donating $1 for each Facebook like it receives to Merry Christmas Issaquah through December. Like Miller Family Dermatology at www.facebook.com/MillerFamilyDerm.

Issaquah Community Services relies on a trained team to assist people in need — especially if the person requesting assistance is embarrassed or reluctant. Savage said the interaction between volunteers and clients strengthens the organization’s link to the community.

“I don’t know any of our volunteers that aren’t caring or sympathetic,” she said.

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 Issaquah Community Services’ most important fundraiser all year. The goal for 2012 is $75,000.

The organization offers rent assistance if eviction is imminent, help with utility bills if a 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 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 organization aims to strengthen the bonds among residents through philanthropy. Issaquah Community Services fills a vital role in the difficult economy, she added.

“You become tied to the community,” she said. “You become tied to the needs that are out there and the wonderful people that need help.”

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