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Haley Keizur, Chief

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Lights twinkle, presents overflow from beneath the crystalized pine tree, the scent of freshly-baked cookies wafts through the air. As metallic red wrapping paper is torn apart and beautifully-tied bows are carelessly tossed aside, succeeded by gleeful grins and laughs and bites are taken from soft, gooey desserts, it is important to remember those that lack access to those experiences.

Many families, especially in Puyallup, do not have the money for presents or extravagant holiday meals; some lack a safe and secure home or any home at all. Those who are fortunate enough to have access to those things or even those who do not, should consider donating time, money or gifts to local organizations.

By volunteering in the community, not only would you be helping out your friends in the area but you could also learn a lot about yourself and what you enjoy doing.

Senior Rimpal Kaur Bajwa volunteers at a variety of places in the community, such as Karshner Elementary School as a tutor, the St. Francis House, Step by Step and FISH Food Bank. She also takes advantage of volunteer opportunities presented by Key Club, HOSA and other PHS clubs. Bajwa has seen the positive results of community service throughout her life.

“Community service has benefitted me by allowing me to participate in something greater than myself and ultimately helping me discover my inner passion. A passion that has motivated me to pursue my future goal of becoming an advocate for the voices that are often ignored to ensure that every individual in the community is given both equal treatment and equal opportunity,” Bajwa said. “Serving as a volunteer has prepared me for the future by teaching me to avoid becoming consumed with my own problems and urging me to consider everyone’s situation.”

The program’s manager at St. Francis House in Puyallup, Laura Anderson, emphasizes how important community service is for young people. Not only is the feeling extremely gratifying but it teaches you what you like and dislike to do.

“It is a lifetime opportunity and it is an opportunity not only to help other people but it is an opportunity to see the world through other people’s eyes, especially for young people. [My career] has certainly opened my eyes to the needs of our community, then in turn, the needs of our world. But, we have to start where we are at. We cannot save the world but we can start in our own community. You learn and you grow,” Anderson said. “ And it is a good place to figure out what you want to do, for a young person. It is a lot more than just helping people, there are lots of different skills here that someone can learn; social skills, warehouse skills, organizational skills, it is a good place to learn what you want to do and what you do not want to do.”

The St. Francis House is a donation-based clothing bank that strives to be a compassionate presence in the community. With only 11 staff members, they rely on their plethora of volunteers to function. They have many perennial volunteers that help on the same day or days and perform the same tasks each week.

They also welcome many high school volunteers to work on bigger projects that come up throughout the year, as well as consistent small jobs such as grounds maintenance, cleaning up the building, landscaping and tasks as the seasons change. As they head into January, they will be renovating the house and will be in need of volunteers to help them put items into storage.

To volunteer, you can submit an online application or get a hardcopy from the house downtown. You will then be contacted, taken on a tour of the organization, then work with the programs manager to decide what you want to do and what days you want to volunteer.

There are many elements that go into their clothing bank, thus the need for volunteers.

“The way our clothing system bank works is, depending on the size of the family and the amount of people in the family, they are allotted ‘x’ amount of items. It is basically seven items per family member with a maximum of 35,” Anderson said. “When a client checks in, we give them a piece of paper that tells them how many items they get, they shop and then they come to the counter and count out. It is similar to actual shopping, they use that piece of paper as their check-out, basically paying for their items. Everything is no charge.”

As for donations, they accept donations of gently-used, clean clothing, small household items and other items people may use in an apartment, six days a week.

Bajwa suggests volunteering at the St. Francis House during the holiday season.

“They give volunteers the opportunity to provide holiday baskets to those less fortunate. They allow young adults to spread the holiday cheer by giving back to the ones who need it the most in our community. They are very welcoming and they could definitely use any extra help,” Bajwa said.

Mt. View Community Center Senior Program Coordinator Beth Ann Johnson has also seen volunteering benefit and provide for the community.

“When you give back to the community, you are really giving the community an opportunity to become stronger and safer for everyone. Volunteering this holiday season really helps; too many families in our community will not have a holiday with the volunteers who make these events possible,” Johnson said.

It is especially crucial for young people to give back this time of year, she says.

“Volunteering is a great way to spend a little time making a big difference. It also gives you the opportunity to get some great hands on experience. It is an opportunity to learn skills that you might not get in another setting. We have had PHS volunteers that were here week after week in our Seeds of Change program; they proved so reliable that we have hired some of them for our summer day camp program. And of course, we love writing recommendation letters for volunteers who do an outstanding job,” Johnson said.

The community center offers a lot of volunteer opportunities all year round. This includes an afterschool kid’s club, the annual Christmas celebration and Santa breakfast and packing KidPower packs.

“[We also have] Seeds of Change, our weekly community meal. We use volunteers to help serve meals for up to 150 people each Thursday from 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. We ask volunteers to arrive around 4:30 p.m., to help with any last minute set up for the meal and to help with clean up after the meal. We are generally finished by 6:45 p.m.,” Johnson said.

You can contact Johnson or Kitty Coates at 253.826.4329 or [email protected] for more information. If you and your family are in need of a meal, you can also attend the weekly gatherings. Families in attendance will also have access to the Edgewood Community Food Bank.

Volunteering is an essential part to building community. Volunteers are the lifeblood of this place, Johnson says in regards to the community center.

Bajwa also has a special place in her heart of community service.

“Volunteering is important to me because it provides an opportunity to see the other side of reality I am sheltered from. As an individual who does not have to worry about the basic necessities, I believe we should not forget how blessed we truly are. Community service is a way to help those less fortunate while simultaneously learning about the issues that plague our society. Serving as a volunteer is truly a humbling experience that can show you how you can really impact the world around you. One small action can transform the life of an individual and even alter the atmosphere of an entire community,” Bajwa said.

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