The outside of Dungeness Community Church was reminiscent of Black Friday this past Saturday morning. Hundreds of people lined up for the church's 19th annual Christmas House celebration that helps people with gifts, household items and more this holiday season.
Co-organizers said the event sees at least 200 families and 900 people, mostly children, each year.
This year, the first two people began waiting at 11:30 p.m. the previous night. It's the longest anyone has ever arrived.
"You'd swear they were camping out for the latest 'Star Wars' movie to open," said Carolyn Dennis, co-organizer of the Christmas House.
Those first in line got their pick of one of 1,200 new toys and gifts the church gathers with some help from Toys for Tots. Children can pick out a gift for their parents/guardians and vice versa.
Five years ago, the event was so busy, volunteers ran out of toys, so they made numerous trips to a nearby store.
"Thankfully we only had one year like that," Dennis said.
The church also provides free family photos, a bounce house, children's activities, Bibles, breakfast and lunch, Christmas carolers and a rummage room.
Dennis said some families specifically come for the rummage room.
The room is similar to a garage sale but families can go through and fill a bag with clothes, books, toys and hardware.
"Every table we own is used for this event," Dennis said about Christmas House.
Worth the effort
Sharon Waters, co-organizer of the event, said the volunteers' hard work is worth it when she sees the smiles on people's faces and is thanked.
"The main reason we're doing (Christmas House) is to share the love of God and let them know of his gift of his son on Christmas," Waters said.
A few years ago, a family from Port Townsend attended the event to receive assistance.
"They told us this was what Christ's love is all about," Waters said.
Scott Culver, pastor of Dungeness Community Church, said proselytizing happens through mixing and
conversation between community and church members.
"Sometimes people open up about hardships and doors open up about God's love and hope," Culver said.
He said one man brought his family last year to Christmas House and began attending church shortly afterward. He was later baptized and continues to attend.
Diana Baylon has helped with the event for 14 years as a Spanish translator for local families. She helps 20-40 families a year. Baylon said they are very appreciative of her being there.
"They feel comfortable talking to me," she said. "I know them from outside the community, too."
Baylon works for Head Start in Sequim and has lived in the city her whole life so she recognizes many of the people who attend.
Culver said the amount of people could be overwhelming for volunteers and participants. Church members reached out to Independent Bible Church in Port Angeles to run a simultaneous event to alleviate the number of people between the two cities.
Waters said in Sequim they had 150 people volunteer. Sign-ups usually are held for a month but this year organizers only needed three weeks for full recruitment.
Rosalie DiMaggio, coorganizer of the event, said the committee works on the event all year and began doing a lot more in October.
"We definitely don't have trouble getting help," DiMaggio said.
This will be the current steering committee's last year after nine years, consisting of Dennis, DiMaggio, Sandy McCulloch and Waters. So far one person has stepped up to continue the committee.
Find out more
This year Christmas House opened early for 20 children from the Sequim Boys & Girls Club and for church members' families.
Money donations for Christmas House are taken year-round and can be made to Dungeness Community Church with "Christmas House" in a check memo line.
Christmas House started in 1992 and runs on the second Saturday of December.
Dungeness Community Church is located at 45 Eberle Lane, Sequim, and can be reached at 683-7333 or www.dcchurch.org.
Reach Matthew Nash at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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