Community helpers

National Guard squadrons pitch in to move Tree of Sharing gifts

Volunteers from two local Washington Air National Guard Combat Communications Squadrons got up early Monday to haul away presents donated to the Tree of Sharing from River Park Square, Northtown Mall and Spokane Valley Mall.

When their morning collection was complete, the half-dozen uniformed men hauled dozens of bulging black trash bags into a donated warehouse.

“This is our last run,” said Chief Master Sgt. Michael Meyer. “We had that truck stuffed to the gills.”

Meyer said he’s been part of the National Guard’s annual volunteer effort since the Tree of Sharing began. It’s the Guard’s job to bring the gifts to a central location when they are sorted and then picked up by participating agencies. “We do about three trips a week,” Meyer said. “The generosity is enough to make your eyes get wet.”

Their volunteer commitment continued this year even though about 20 percent of the two units are deployed in Iraq. “The Guard is part of the community,” he said. “We just want to help out. We love to do it.”

This year there were 6,260 tags on trees at the three area malls. More than 50 local agencies surveyed their clients and then submitted ages and wish lists for each qualifying person to the Tree of Sharing. “This year there were only 68 (tags) left over,” said downtown Tree of Sharing coordinator Marian Thackray, which is a record low for the annual event.

But the people whose tags weren’t picked up will still get gifts. The warehouse, donated by Numerica Credit Union, has a mound of extra items that were donated without a specific person in mind. The pile includes everything from toys to perfume to clothes. “Just about anything you can imagine,” Thackray said. Those gifts will be parceled out to anyone who didn’t have their tag returned with a present.

Once the National Guard members dropped off their last, huge pile of gifts, volunteers began to trickle in. Soon, a small contingent was at work, opening bags and using carts to move presents across the cavernous room to the appropriate agency’s pile. Tree of Sharing coordinator Dru Powers said she was grateful for the 20,000 square feet of space at Numerica’s Spokane Valley headquarters on East Sprague Avenue. Usually the group works in about 5,000 square feet and sometimes has had to make do with less.

“This is a marvelous space,” Powers said. “We have heat and we have a bathroom. What more can you want? We’ve had warehouse locations where we haven’t had heat.”

The volunteers Monday afternoon were mostly from Asuris Northwest Health, though some Numerica employees dropped in to help on their lunch break. In the morning a group of students from West Valley High School also helped sort. The Boy Scouts also did a gift transportation trip over the weekend to augment the efforts of the 242nd and 256th Combat Communications Squadrons.

Nina Culver can be reached at 927-2158 or via e-mail at ninac@spokesman.com.

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