Volunteer ardent about Christmas
It all began as a clerical volunteer job back in 1991, when Patricia Kimmons, 83, decided to volunteer for the Children’s Administration a couple of hours a week. She helped with filing and organized background checks on the drivers that take children to and from appointments.
Kimmons also got involved with the Holiday Project, which at the time provided a Christmas present to about 100 children who were living with relatives, in foster homes or being monitored by Child Protective Services.
“I had a relative who was doing work study with the Department of Children and Family Services, that’s how I found this place,” Kimmons said. And that’s how she met Laurie Palmquist, who’s now the Regional Program Manager for the Children’s Administration.
“We became friends and I followed Laurie as she moved between different positions,” Kimmons said.
Palmquist said people are so used to seeing her together with Kimmons some thinks she’s her mother.
“I tell them she just likes to act like that,” Palmquist said. “I remember thinking she had so much energy and really wanted to help. She has a huge heart for helping others and she worries about the children that come through our office.”
And the Holiday Project grew.
Today, Kimmons is affectionately known as Mrs. Santa and the program is serving almost 1,500 children during this holiday season.
“It’s a bad year,” Kimmons said, reflecting on how many families are challenged by unemployment and financial problems during this particular holiday season.
Part of the funding for the presents comes from a building-wide raffle of donated items such as restaurant dinners and over-night hotel stays, but many local businesses and organizations also donate presents every year.
“I started that by calling around and see who’d like to help us,” Kimmons said. “Many return year after year – one business takes 40 wishes.”
The Holiday Project’s official kickoff is the first Tree of Sharing meeting, which is usually in September.
“We can’t get them all on the Tree of Sharing,” Kimmons said.
Sometimes she takes things in her own hands and does something special for a family.
“One time a young mother just got her child back – she had no clothes or anything,” Kimmons said. “I went out and got them some things, found some clothes for the child for a special party. And I gave them a gift certificate for food.”
The Children’s Services includes Child Protective Services and all foster care programs and the children who receive presents via the Holiday Project throughout Eastern Washington.
Kimmons said she really enjoys her job and especially likes working with the other volunteers and work study students from Gonzaga University and Eastern Washington University.
She still oversees the drivers who bring children into the office for supervised visits with their biological parents.
“Part of her role has been to help watch the children while they wait for visits with their parents,” Palmquist said. “She is like a grandma to them. Pat really likes to know she’s making a difference.”
Today, Kimmons lives in north Spokane. She arrived here from Oregon in 1949. She worked in banking all her life, until she retried at 65. She’s raised two sons and by all accounts had a full life, she said.
How does she manage her own holiday preparations when she’s volunteering every day?
“Oh, I don’t do as much for Christmas as I used to,” Kimmons said. “But I find time, you do what you have to do.”
It’s difficult to get a word in sidewise, once Kimmons gets talking about the Holiday Project – it’s easy to see why her incredible energy is admired and appreciated by everyone who works with her.
“(She) amazes us each year with her energy and commitment,” said Connie Morlin, area administrator for foster home licensing with CPS. “From Thanksgiving on she works almost full-time until a few days before Christmas. We call her the ‘Energizer Bunny’ and all hope we can be like her as we age.”
Kimmons enjoys retirement, but sitting still at home is not a part of it.
“This keeps me from aging and sitting in a rocking chair,” Kimmons said laughing. “It’s wonderful to be around the people, it keeps me more alert this way.”
Reach Pia Hallenberg Christensen (509) 459-5427 or firstname.lastname@example.org