LIHU’E — Rent and a car payment at the beginning of the month leave Ruby Bessert very little money left to think about extravagant Christmas presents for her seven children. Her husband is in jail, and without help from those responsible for the Toys For Tots/Lokahi/Angel Tree program, it would be a meager Christmas for her children, she said Wednesday outside The Salvation Army Lihue Corps building and chapel on Hardy Street.
“It would be tough” without the help, she said. “This really helps out a lot,” she said as she watched Tonya Ward and Jason Ward load a large box of toys into the back of her sport-utility vehicle.
Bessert, 34, works full-time at Suite Paradise in Koloa, and her children are ages 4 to 16.
She can’t afford the big-ticket items her children are requesting for Christmas, and she said her children understand her situation.
The gifts in the big box, including several she was unable to afford to buy herself, will “give the children a smile,” she said.
Folks at the state Department of Human Services told her about the availability of the free toys, bikes, games, and other presents being given away to needy Kauaians.
Proof of income and some other paperwork is needed in order to qualify for the distribution, she said.
While in one moment The Salvation Army Lihue Corps parking lot is nearly empty, it quickly fills up like the Wal-Mart parking lot does this time of year, with young families with children, older folks without any youngsters with them, and couples, all coming with the green slips of paper indicating they have prepackaged gift boxes awaiting their arrival.
Tonya Ward and Jason Ward of Kapa’a, he a U.S. Marine on inactive ready reserve (IRR, the last to be called up, he said), scurry from the chapel that doubles as the pre-packaged gift-box holding room, to the cars and vans of the needy families, hauling as many toys as their arms can carry.
Volunteers man a couple of other tables, checking paperwork and arranging for the efficient distribution of toys that now dominate The Salvation Army Lihue Corps building.
Jason Ward operates DBA LLC, offering financial, asset and legal services to owners and operators of small businesses.
Capt. Mitham Clement of The Salvation Army Lihue Corps said members of over 430 families received free bikes, toys, gifts, and other items, at Lihu’e and Hanapepe, and over 2,300 toys were distributed to representatives of 16 agencies who serve needy children, in addition to all those showing up for the distribution events.
“Kaua’i has been incredibly, incredibly generous, every year, and outstanding again this year,” he said.
People can still drop off toys until today, Friday, Dec. 23, officially, but nothing would be refused, even after that date, Clement said.
“We still are here to help until the 25th.” Some people even come after Christmas Day, this Sunday, Dec. 25, looking for help, he said.
If there are still toys left, they will be accommodated, he added.
Nearly unnoticed is a family of four in what is fairly obviously a rental car backing into one of the prime parking stalls close to the distribution area.
The trunk pops open, and they quietly begin unloading dozens of footballs, basketballs, baseballs, baseball mitts, CD players, portable stereos, and much more, with the help of Tonya and Jason Ward, who are blown away by the latest contributions.
Steven Smith, wife Kathleen Smith, and children Alexis Smith, 23, and Spencer Smith, 21, are veterans at the shopping-and-donating routine, having done this for the last six years, before Clement was even assigned here.
“It’s fun for us,” said Kathleen Smith.
Steven Smith, a home-builder, likes the fact that, with the advent of bar codes, there are fewer price tags to remove, and he and Spencer Smith pump up basketballs in one of the rooms of The Salvation Army where, on one side, are hundreds of toys for young children, some slick-looking bicycles and helmets for older children, and empty Toys For Tots collection boxes.
On a covered-up pool table in what normally is a recreation room, a member of the Smith family asks Clement for tape to attach batteries to the CD players and portable stereos that will brighten many young Kauaians’ Christmases.
Alexis Smith and Spencer Smith, who have many younger cousins, are adept at knowing what older children want for Christmas, and they were eager to unload the car and sort the first load so they could return for CDs, and many other gifts, as one carload wasn’t enough giving for any member of their family, they said.
The Smiths live in Koloa and Seattle, and come to Kaua’i around once a month. At the holidays, many other family members normally join them, they said.
This year, members of their extended family have joined them on Kaua’i, they said.
So why do they come unannounced to The Salvation Army bearing gifts that will go to people they don’t even know?
“We’re excited about the kids in Kaua’i,” Kathleen Smith said. “We want them to have a nice Christmas. We’re excited to be here. We love this island.”
“This will really help us,” Clement said.
As mentioned earlier, they weren’t done.
“We still have more shopping to do,” said Kathleen Smith, indicating that books, CDs, games, and other items, were still on their shopping lists.
They participate in similar programs for the less-fortunate in Seattle, they said.
- Paul C. Curtis, associate editor, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or email@example.com.