Port Orchard Rotary and Soroptimist International volunteers load beneficiary vehicles with presents and food for the holidays as part of the “Port Orchard Cares” effort Saturday, Dec. 17. Bob Smith | Kitsap Daily News photo

Port Orchard Rotary and Soroptimist International bring Christmas joy to area families, children

PORT ORCHARD — The Port Orchard Rotary and Port Orchard Soroptimist International organizations joined forces on a Saturday morning, Dec. 17, to organize food collections, wrap presents, and then distribute a holiday bounty to area families going through tough times.

For the Rotary, this was the 20th year of the “Port Orchard Cares” event they conduct over the Christmas holiday. This year, food and presents were distributed to 30 families preselected by South Kitsap Helpline, They picked up the packages by driving through the open bay of South Kitsap Fire and Rescue’s Tremont station. Another 10 military families from the Naval base and Bangor also received Christmas packages.

These are tight times for many South Kitsap families who have turned to South Kitsap Helpline for assistance. Many, in fact, are in such a precarious financial state that they don’t have money to buy Christmas presents for the kids or put a proper holiday meal on the table. With that in mind, about 30 volunteers from Rotary and the Port Orchard Soroptimist group — including non-members who just wanted to help — took over a large conference room at the fire station and wrapped hundreds of packages containing clothes, toys and anything suitable for Christmas gifts for 101 children.

After the gifts were wrapped and ribbons tied, volunteers placed them in large plastic bags and transported them to the fire station’s open bay.

In the weekend before Thanksgiving and the first Saturday this month, Rotary and Soroptimist members collected food donations from four area grocery stores by area shoppers.

Beginning at 9:30 a.m., sedans and minivans rolled through the open bay of the South Kitsap Fire and Rescue’s Tremont station Dec. 17, assembly line style. They exited the station with the prospects of a more joyful Christmas holiday season, thanks to the generosity of the two civic groups.

For Laura and Austin Gese, volunteering to wrap presents is a family affair. Father John, a Rotarian and co-chairman of the event, enlisted the pair to help.

The other co-chair, Leslie Reynolds-Taylor, also a Rotarian, said her fellow Rotarians stepped up to help in a big way. “A minimum of $75 was spent on presents for each child,” she said. “Sometimes, it was more.”

The money spent for the gifts came from the pockets of Rotary members, not from the organization’s resources, Reynolds-Taylor said.

A sister organization, Rotary Club of South Kitsap, also was an important contributor to the effort. One Rotarian from that group “adopted” 12 children and personally purchased gifts for them.Rotary members Sean and Colleen Smith previously were co-chairs for the event. Reynolds-Taylor said that Colleen Smith’s process for organizing previous “Port Orchard Cares” was a lifesaver for her. “Colleen created a program that covered everything from ‘a’ to ‘z.’ It made it much easier than starting from nothing.”

She said that family members were quizzed about their three “wants” and three “needs” this season. With that information in hand, volunteers worked to fulfilled as many wishes as possible.

The costs for the presents were paid for by individual Rotarians.

Volunteers Wayne Cohen (left) and Sean Smith wrap presents for a lucky child as part of the “Port Orchard Cares” event Saturday, Dec. 17. Bob Smith | Kitsap Daily News photo

Austin Gese (left) and Laura Gese wrap presents inside the South Kitsap Fire and Rescue’s Tremont station Saturday, Dec. 17. Family member John Gese serves as co-chair for the event. Bob Smith | Kitsap Daily News photo

Leslie Reynolds Taylor (right) assists a volunteer who has a present wrapping challenge. Reynolds Taylor is co-chair of the event. Bob Smith | Kitsap Daily News photo

A sleek new bicycle and a load of holiday food awaits a lucky child and family Saturday, Dec. 17. Bob Smith | Kitsap Daily News

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