Neil Rayes Karen Marchi

Kiwanis Club member Neil Rayes and his girlfriend Karen Marchi had a pickup truck full of gifts to deliver to group foster homes.

Ahwatukee Kiwanis Club members had a special reason to wake up smiling on Christmas morning.

Their efforts in a compressed time frame brought some joy to 163 kids, mostly boys, from 17 different group foster homes.

“I know many of you donors and volunteers woke up on Christmas morning with the thought of the foster youth opening their gifts and being happy – at least for one day,” gift drive organizer Andi Pettyjohn told donors in an email last week.

There were several major sponsors in the drive. Insight sponsored three group homes and provided 45 $25 Walmart gift cards for boys); Sun Grove HOA sponsored two group homes.

There also were business and individual sponsors for one home each, including Western Window Systems, Kiwanis member Lisa Gilman and Volofit, the gym used by Pettyjohn’s daughter Stacy Rasmussen.

Mountain View Lutheran Church’s congregation donated “lots and lots of items and gift cards,” Pettyjohn said, and Boys Team Charities did a “Hoodies for the Holidays” collection that included wrapping donated hoodies and collecting items from drop-off sites where donors could take their offerings for the drive.

In addition, two Tempe businesses came through in a big way.

One Tempe business, which requested anonymity, donated clothing, shoes, hygiene items and gift cards for an entire group home. 

Todd McFarlane and Wanda Kolomyjec, owners of McFarlane Toys in Tempe, donated 12 boxes of toys “so every boy received all the latest action figures of the video game, comic book and superheroes,” Pettyjohn said.

Pettyjohn’s neighbor, high school senior Stephanie Vojtek, “donated boxes and boxes of hygiene items for boys and girls that she had purchased by “extreme couponing.”

Kiwanis Club President Margaret Ramsay and her team of elves organized the donated hygiene items in bags donated by Charity Sewers while Extra Space Storage in the Ahwatukee Foothills donating storage space for donated items.

“After our collections were organized and bagged up for each child, we called on our “wrapping elves,” many of which were willing community members of both Ahwatukee and Queen Creek, and they wrapped gifts in their homes,” Pettyjohn said.

Meanwhile, Kiwanis member Carrie Chipman organized dozens of “baking elves” to make cookies and other goodies “so each group home received a large gift bag filled with cookies, candy and other treats,” she added.

All the gifts were delivered to the homes by “delivery elves,” Ahwatukee Kiwanians Neil Rayes, Mike Schmitt and James Taylor. Rayes also had an assist from his girlfriend, Karen Marchi.

The result of the drive – which lasted less than three weeks and quickly followed a drive to deliver Thanksgiving dinners to the group homes – was another testament to the Kiwanis Club’s efforts and the generosity of the community, Pettyjohn said.

“Each child received necessary clothing items like underwear, socks, one to two shirts, one to two pants, gym shoes, hygiene items and at least one item from his or her wish list and or gift cards,” she said. “Many received hoodies and blankets – many also donated by Charity Sewers. Many larger toys and games were donated to the home for the kids to share.”

Left-over toys from McFarlane Toys are being donated to AZ Helping Hands, a Phoenix nonprofit that provides help for foster youth throughout the Valley.

Pettyjohn said she appreciated “everyone who donated, wrapped, delivered and helped in so many other ways to make this Christmas project possible.”

“I know these gifts were greatly appreciated by both the youth and staff members.”

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