When Denise Cleveland took over the Astoria Knappa Wishing Tree Program a few years ago, she discovered she alone could not provide both gifts and food baskets for local families like the program had historically offered during Christmastime.
She decided to pause the food baskets and focus on gifts for children.
“If this program did not exist there are kids that would go with nothing. And just because their parents can’t afford it, it doesn’t mean they don’t deserve something,” Cleveland said. “A lot of times their kids are asking for blankets and coats, stuff that we would normally take for granted that they just don’t have. And without this program, they wouldn’t get it, they would be cold.”
Last year, Columbia Memorial Hospital in Astoria decided to partner with Wishing Tree and take on the food basket portion of the program.
“CMH likes to reach out and get involved in as much as they can in the community, so this is just one of those things we need to do. It’s feeding families that wouldn’t otherwise have a dinner,” said Andy Sickles, the hospital’s patient experience coordinator and lead for the food baskets.
Last year, the program served over 200 families. They expect to serve more this year.
Most of the food donations last year came from Lewis and Clark Elementary School, so this year Columbia Memorial asked Astoria Middle School and Astoria High School to participate in collecting food.
Lynn Jackson, the Astoria High School principal, said the food drive helps fill a temporal need for the student body and also provides an educational opportunity about the joy of service.
“Education is more than just math and reading and science. Especially in a society where at times we feel a sense of division, these types of activities bring a unifying sense of community back to our local sphere,” Jackson said.
“As an educational institution, we’re teaching that civic responsibility. Just looking out for your fellow community members is an important aspect of not only feeling a sense of unity in our community, but also the joy of supporting others and forgetting yourself a little bit. The challenge is that we have many of our students that are actually in need, so we’re doing a food drive to benefit many of our own students.”
The gifts and food baskets will be distributed on Dec. 19 at the Clatsop County Fairgrounds.
Leading up to that day, Columbia Memorial employees will spend four days at the fairgrounds organizing and sorting the food. Each family will receive basic ingredients in their baskets like sugar, milk, flour, eggs and a turkey voucher.
Hospital employees are also putting together a recipe book with their families’ favorite holiday recipes. All the recipes can be made with the ingredients in the basket.
“It’s a good program. It helps a lot of the community and we need to pull together during this time of the year,” Cleveland said.