Spreading Cheer: YMCA Celebrates Community Through Outreach

South Sound YMCA
Families from all over Thurston County come together to give the gift of holiday cheer at the annual Christmas at the Y event. Photo credit: SSYMCA

The holidays for many families mean presents, decorations and quality time together. For others, it can be a stark reminder of the challenges in their life. The South Sound YMCA was determined to help everyone, regardless of circumstance, enjoy the magic of the season through their annual Christmas at the Y.

South Sound YMCA has been a pinnacle of community service in Thurston County for decades. Their focus on youth development, healthy living and social responsibility impacts our residents each and every day. Bringing people together to make strong neighborhood connections has been a success through Y events held all year long. However, there is something particularly special about this year’s annual Christmas celebration.

South Sound YMCA
Families enjoyed cocoa, crafts, and pictures with Santa Claus. Photo credit: SSYMCA

On December 1, 2017, the downtown YMCA invited hundreds of families to take part in this year’s event. “It’s an outreach event,” explains Aubree Pocklington, senior director of health and well-being. “It’s a way to provide Christmas to families that are in more need than some. We work closely with the Thurston County Food Bank to help distribute flyers about the event to students that receive homeless backpacks and free and reduced lunch in the Olympia School District and North Thurston Public Schools. We really wanted to spread Christmas cheer to as many families as possible and give them a reason to celebrate.”

A large portion of the party focuses on bringing the magic of the season to children in attendance. “Every kid that came had a chance to meet Santa and leave with a gift,” says Pocklington. “Along with the gift, every family received a picture with Santa as well. We also had face painting, a holiday craft, hot cocoa and the South Sound Reading Foundation was on hand to give out books.”

While these children enjoy receiving a gift of their own, many want the opportunity to give a gift to their families as well. “Each child had the chance to go into our ‘gift shop’ and pick out a special present for their parents. Volunteers wrapped these gifts on site so kids could take them home that day. It really gives children a chance to take part in the season of giving.”

YMCA Olympia
Volunteers wrap gifts by the hundreds to spread holiday cheer. Photo credit: SSYMCA

While a gift can make spirits bright, for many of these families that attend, they often need more support to ensure the holiday season is bright. “We try to provide the necessities for those families that need more,” explains Pocklington. “For those families, we set up the giving room. It’s a private space, with curtains, where families can pick out what they really need for this time of year but can’t afford including mittens, socks and blankets. We wanted to provide these families a sense of comfort and to know they were cared for.

Planning for such a massive event begins as early as June, but the backbone of this work are the volunteers and YMCA members. “Our members donate everything,” says Pocklington. “We put up a giving tree and they bring everything that is given to these families during the party. Most of the party itself is run by volunteers and we served 420 families this year. Volunteers came out to help wrap presents, do face painting and set up. We really welcome anyone who wants to volunteer to come see us. We can always find a job for them. These volunteers just want to spread cheer in the community.”

Kids had the opportunity to pick out a gift to give their parents during the season of giving event at the YMCA. Photo credit: SSYMCA

With eight years under their belts hosting the annual Christmas Event, the YMCA doesn’t plan on stopping this event any time soon. “We seem to be growing every year,” describes Pocklington. “The need started with noticing families downtown that needed assistance but now we are finding families from all over the area attending. As the need grows, so does the event. We know that next year, in our new location, we will have to plan for even more.”

To learn more about the services and programs offered at the Y, visit the South Sound YMCA online or call 360-357-6609 for the downtown branch or 360-753-6576 for the Briggs banch.


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