For 44 years here in Boulder County, an ardent group of volunteers has done everything possible to ensure Santa overlooks no child’s chimney come Christmastime.
Their good work continues this year. With an army of volunteers, Share-A-Gift will gather and distribute a bounty of donated bikes, toys, books, and clothing, helping 600 underprivileged local families give presents to their kids.
“It’s said that most children don’t know they’re poor until the holidays roll around,” says JoAnn Joselyn, Share-A-Gift board member and volunteer coordinator. “This can put an awful lot of stress on a family. We think the magic we’re working takes a lot of that stress away. We certainly hope it makes things easier for breadwinners and more fun for the kids.”
The magic that fuels Share-A-Gift every year is in fact a community groundswell, where players large and small take part. Some of Boulder’s most talented people and companies jump in to the 100% volunteer effort, holding toy drives, sorting through thousands of donations, even keeping the books.
“We think a full 1% of the Boulder community pitches in every year,” says Todd Gullette, this year’s board president. “That’s incredible. It’s regular folks, professionals, the city of Boulder police department, schools, clubs and organizations. It’s just that kind of effort. People want to be involved.”
Mr. Gullette, a Spanish speaker, was inspired to join Share-A-Gift’s board after one particularly moving experience. He was helping families choose gifts when he saw a mother and her 15-year-old son waiting in line.
“Families aren’t supposed to bring their kids when they pick out presents, but this child was serving as the family’s breadwinner and father figure to his younger siblings,” Mr. Gullette explains. “His time of being a kid was long past.”
The three began choosing presents for the family’s younger children when Mr. Gullette remembered that an X-Box game system had been donated earlier that day.
“When I saw this teenager, I knew it would be perfect,” he says. “His mom just burst into tears. He was happy but confused – was this really for him? It was an incredible moment.”
Experiences like this one and others at Share-A-Gift run counter to Boulder County’s general reputation for boundless wealth.
“Boulder County has a very typical breakdown of people from every economic point on the spectrum, and that means we have a lot of people who can use a little extra help,” explains Mr. Gullette, who is also a Realtor with RE/MAX of Boulder.
“I’ve volunteered for lots of organizations, but most of the time you’re helping people who help people,” he adds. “At Share-A-Gift you actually see the impact of the overall effort.”
Ms. Joselyn agrees.
“It’s absolutely a labor of love,” she says. “You just get sucked in with the sheer joy of it.”
Sucked in is an understatement in Ms. Joselyn’s case. She has participated since the initial effort back in 1972, when the First Presbyterian Church held a basic toy drive. That first drive grew as more churches, a synagogue and Buddhist temple joined in to help. Share-A-Gift eventually incorporated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit and has continued to evolve.
This year Share-A-Gift is the official distributor of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots drive, ensuring that goods donated in Boulder County will be given to children here.
One of the biggest hurdles Share-A-Gift faces every year is finding a space to host its annual Toy Shop, when families come in to choose goods for their children just before Christmas. This year’s event on Saturday, December 19th will be held at the former location of Valley Chrysler Dodge on north 28th Street.
“The commercial market is tight and always getting tighter in Boulder,” Mr. Gullette explains. “We work every angle and eventually someone hands us the keys.”
This year the building and its big parking lot come courtesy of owners Greg and Susan Gubrich, who recently relocated their Dodge dealership around the block to 2100 30th Street.
This year’s Toy Shop will be filled with student volunteers like Olivia Gribbon, a Boulder High School senior who is the co-president of Interact, the BHS junior Rotary service club. Ms. Gribbon is a Spanish speaker and enjoys helping families navigate the massive toy shop. She and other students like her will help put families at ease when they come to partake in all of this altruism, not always an easy task.
“It’s very clear as people arrive that they are very nervous, sometimes even sad,” Mr. Gullette says. “But they walk out with wonderful presents for their children, and that’s the important part.”
“It’s the great support of this community that makes it all possible,” Ms. Joselyn adds. “We call it the miracle of Christmas.”