By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
Each year, Audrey Butler is knee-deep in a project that takes up a whole week right before Christmas.
She wouldn’t have it any other way.
Butler is in charge of the Keizer Network of Women (KNOW) Giving Baskets program. Once a Keizer Chamber of Commerce activity, Butler expanded the program and has run it the past five years.
“Somebody has to do it,” she said. “I keep thinking about passing it on, and I will at some point. But I will never stop working with it. It’s a passion of mine to take care of people.”
The process starts in June, when school counselors in Keizer are notified and asked to start thinking of students who could use some gifts during the holidays. Nearly 125 families and 372 students are being helped this year.
By mid-October, Butler and the KNOW members are sorting through the requests and figuring out who gets what gifts. For a family with multiple children, care is taken to make sure each child gets an equal number of gifts.
Tags are on Giving Trees at five Keizer locations: St. Edward Catholic Church, Big Town Hero, Schoolhouse Square Starbucks, McNary Golf Club and the Courthouse Athletic Club. Gifts need to be dropped off by Dec. 7.
Gifts are picked up Monday, Dec. 10, which kicks off the busy week for Butler and the dozen other regulars who help out, in addition to the 30 to 50 people who often help at some point during the week.
“It’s amazing,” Butler said of the response from the community to the program. “They look for the tags and ask when they are ready. We have to be careful, because they tend to overdo it.”
Volunteers spend 12 to 14 hours a night during that week sorting and boxing items.
“When you work with the boxes that much, you learn where things are,” Butler said. “We don’t want any used things. If an item is something we wouldn’t give to our own kids, we won’t do it.”
After gifts are sorted that Monday and Tuesday, any gifts still needed are purchased Wednesday.
“It’s organized chaos,” Butler said with a laugh.
Old Navy (clothes) and Fred Meyer (bikes) are usually shopped at since those stores help with discounts.
Food is sorted and boxed that evening. Sorting continues Thursday, Dec. 13 with a gift wrapping party starting at 6 p.m. at Schoolhouse Square.
“The community comes in and just shows up,” Butler said. “We ask people to bring extra wrapping paper, tape, ribbon and scissors. Between 100 and 130 people usually show up. It’s crazy fun. Last year we were done in about two hours.”
Boxes are checked one last time Friday, with delivery of gifts starting at 9 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 15.
When it comes time to deliver the boxes, Butler could easily stop and let others finish the job. But she doesn’t.
“I always make it a point to deliver one box,” Butler said. “I have to see one through. The one I did last year, the boy was 11 and got a bike. He was so excited. His sister was maybe 3. She said, ‘That’s for you, from Santa?’ Then she saw what we had for her. The look on her price was priceless. I lost it.”
Butler said each year amazing things happen. Last year it was discovered 35 gift tags were not put out. Members of a church came forward and covered all the gifts.
“We turned it over to God,” Butler said. “That was incredible. Every year little things like that happen that I don’t have any control over. It always works. It is 100 percent because we’re doing the right thing.”