Imagine the holidays through a child’s eyes, but perhaps without a home, warm clothes, or holiday treats and presents to look forward to. Envision going to school after the holidays, and while classmates discuss their holiday treasures, you have nothing to contribute to the conversation. The holidays, a time of cherished family memories and childhood joy, are also a time of desperation and hopelessness for those who experience the pressures of poverty in our communities.

Local volunteers at Holly House in Lynnwood work year-round to bring the joy of the holidays to struggling children in their community by providing a free shopping experience for parents to obtain both necessities and gifts during the holiday season. 

Holly House in Snohomish County
Holly House volunteers sort through over 4,000 pairs of warm fleece or flannel pajamas at the Holly House in Snohomish County. Photo credit: Julia Fiene Bowman

Shopping Day at Holly House

Operating as a pop-up shopping experience one weekend a year in December, parents struggling to make ends meet can shop for free. Items such as pajamas, warm socks, books, and toys are selected by the parents to provide for their children during this joyous season. Shoppers enjoy warm coffee and holiday cookies while waiting.

“It is so important to me that these parents feel honored and important,” Pam Martinez, founder and executive director of the Holly House, explains. “When we have new parents, they just stand there in awe, and tears start streaming down their faces. It is beautiful and so much fun.”

The vital work of the Holly House keeps children, some of whom are living in shelters or vehicles, warm and provides them with holiday joy that is so important to families this time of the year.

Holly House in Snohomish County
Neighbors helping neighbors is an important part of the work of the Holly House in Snohomish County. Photo credit: Julia Fiene Bowman

Spreading Holiday Joy Through Giving: The History of Holly House

In 2006, Martinez felt a calling to help kids in the community feel loved and supported, especially during the holiday season. “When Holly House first started, we would try our best to just give simple things out to needy families, but since then, it has rippled through the community and has gotten huge,” Martinez explains. “It has grown tremendously and is thriving because of the community support we have.” 

In the beginning, Martinez, along with community volunteers, started with schools where 85 percent of students lived in poverty. Holly House now serves 16 schools in the Edmonds School District and has given holiday joy to over 2,000 children and teens. Keeping this work local is an essential part of Holly House.

“This is where we live. We need to start in our own community,” Martinez explains. “These are the kids you see getting off the busses and walking home and around the community.”

Holly House has thrived and expanded throughout the years, but not without challenges. The non-profit survived the pandemic by offering a drive-through shopping experience. Without having a year-round home base, Holly House has had to work through many logistical challenges. Throughout the last 18 years, Holly House has set up pop-up shopping experiences in 15-16 different sites. Many volunteers are required to organize, stage, assist shoppers and clean up after the busy weekend. 

Holly House in Snohomish County
Teen volunteers haul hundreds of boxes of pajamas, books, and toys to be sorted and nicely displayed for a free shopping weekend at the Holly House in Snohomish County. Photo credit: Julia Fiene Bowman

How You Can Help: Giving Opportunities at Holly House

Hundreds of volunteers are needed to make the work at Holly House successful. “Sometimes we start the day after Christmas preparing for the next season,” Martinez explains. “Every year, we need 4,000 pairs of pajamas to keep kids warm. We need socks, underwear, hats, scarves, toys, teen gifts, blankets, and toothbrushes, all brand new. These kids deserve brand new. They usually don’t get brand new.”  

Work parties are arranged every Sunday and Wednesday leading up to the big shopping weekend to organize and sort donations. Teens and families are encouraged to volunteer. “This wouldn’t happen without the volunteers and the hearts they have for these kids,” Martinez explains.

Holly House in Snohomish County
Without a permanent location, the Holly House in Snohomish County has set up a free pop-up shopping experience for families struggling with poverty in 15-16 different locations in 18 years. Photo credit: Julia Fiene Bowman

If you’d like to be a part of this important work and bring holiday joy to kids in the community, please consider a donation of your time or money to Holly House. Specific needs this season include warm fleece or flannel pajamas for kids ages 10-18, teen gifts or funds to continue the tremendous work that goes into running the Holly House. Additional ways you can help include:

Community volunteers helping local children experience a warm, joyful holiday is the work of Holly House. “There are kids everywhere who we help in the community,” Martinez says. “Some of them you wouldn’t even know needed help, but they desperately do.”

Consider joining this essential mission by making volunteer work at Holly House a part of your family’s holiday tradition. “We could not do this without the community,” Martinez concludes. “The people who help us are amazing and wonderful.”

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