By James Hearne
As Whatcom County prepares to participate in the festivities of the holiday season, many families can hardly cover bare necessities, let alone buy toys for their children. Now, the people who see this poverty first hand are doing something about it.
“Project Santa Claus” is an effort by the Whatcom County Sheriff’s office to help children and families throughout the area. The program was started in 1979, when local deputies noticed that many families didn’t have the means to have a happy holiday.
Now, for the second year in a row the Criminal Justice Leadership Club at Whatcom Community College is pitching in to help out. On Dec. 4 and 5, there will be collection areas for money donations near both entrances of the Laidlaw building. In addition, club members will also walk around campus to solicit donations.
“Basically, it’s about giving Christmas to kids whose families might not be able to afford it,” said Dustin Westhoff, the deputy chief of administration for the club. He said that the club’s involvement with the program started last year, but was limited to volunteer work. There was no fundraising. This year they are hoping to raise at least $500.
“This thing has really snowballed,” said Westhoff. They have been approached by Whatcom faculty asking how they can help, and the Bellingham Herald is doing a feature highlighting their efforts.
“It’s really taken on a life of its own,” said Terry Holmes, the chief of the club.
“It’s focused on providing Christmas presents to underprivileged children, who might not otherwise have a happy Christmas,” said JT Taylor, who teaches criminal justice at Whatcom, and is the faculty advisor for the club.
It costs about $15,600 to help 125 children every holiday season, said Detective Kevin Bowhay, of the sheriff’s office, who has overseen the program for the past nine years. The actual program is modeled after the Bellingham Police Department’s “shop with a cop” program.
“Instead of bringing the toys and food to the families,” said Bowhay, “we bring the families to the toys and food.”
The WTA will send a fleet of eight buses to carry the children to K-Mart.
“There is plenty of singing and spirit building,” said Bowhay. The children are then allowed to pick out what age-appropriate toys they like. The program also gives the family food for a holiday feast.
“Whatever a person does will be passed on to these children, putting smiles on their faces and at times tears of joy in the volunteers’ eyes,” said Bowhay.