Rallying to spread Christmas cheer

Local businesses have worked to brighten the holiday for area families.

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Lora and Rick Gilman show up at the door of Bobbie Jo Lawrence to deliver toys and dinner for Lawrence and her children. The Gilmans took part in an effort by Legacy Walla Walla and Toys For Tots to bring Christmas cheer to people in need around the Valley. Rick Gilman is a sales representative at Legacy.

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Rick Gilman sales rep from Legacy Ford puting toys for tots in back of a Ford escape on Thursday afternoon.

WALLA WALLA -- Bobbie Jo Lawrence opened her front door Thursday evening to two strangers armed with wrapped packages and a turkey dinner.

She had no idea how they found her, or how they knew she could use the help.

"I was just overwhelmed," the mother of seven said this morning. "It's embarrassing to be in this position, but we certainly just appreciated everything that they did."

The mother of seven has been a federal medic for years, responding with aid to disasters from the Sept. 11 attacks to Hurricane Katrina. But with a recurrence of cancer and chemotherapy treatments, she finds herself in a new position on the receiving end of aid.

Rick and Lora Gilman were one of several teams from Legacy Walla Walla making deliveries across town Thursday. The Ford dealership partnered with Toys for Tots, "adopting" 30 families to provide gifts for 114 children and meals for a Christmas dinner. Deliveries to the first 15 families took place Wednesday. A caravan of four teams left the downtown auto dealership around 5 p.m. and spent roughly three hours surprising families with the bounties.

The movement was one of numerous examples throughout the community of businesses coming together to help those in need this holiday season.

About 20 businesses this year signed on as collection points for Toys for Tots, said local toy drive coordinator Beth Swanson. Some organizations used the collection bins to encourage employees, while others serve as dropoff points for the public. Swanson said Walla Walla Clinic encouraged its employees to bring a gift to the organization's annual holiday party earlier in the month.

Other businesses choose to tap into their own talent to help encourage donations. Downtown salon City Slickers is an example. During one Sunday this month, the salon gave away free haircuts in exchange for the donation of a new unwrapped toy or monetary contribution to Toys for Tots.

For the second year Hot Mama's Espresso "adopted" a family and encouraged customers to bring in specific needed items to help with its efforts. Employees at Jacobi's Caf?© also collected toys and coats in an effort to spread their own sense of family throughout the community.

Swanson said the Toys for Tots drive throughout the Walla Walla Valley helped provide gifts for 1,066 kids.

But the efforts also have a benefit for those behind them. "I think it definitely brings us all together," said Ross Russell, a coordinator for Legacy's deliveries. "It's good for all of us to get together and do something that's good for the community."

It's equally good for families, as Lawrence can attest. Though it has been difficult for her to accept that she needs help, the assistance from people in the community has helped bring a sense of normalcy to her home through the tragedy of her cancer battle.

"There are not any words I can say to show how thankful I am," she said.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

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