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December 3, 2017

Holiday Kids' Tree ceremony kicks off the Christmas season

By: Brian Mittge   Comments: 0
Gabbie Sanchez and her father, West Thurston firefighter Randy Sanchez. They have attended the Holiday Kids' Tree lighting for decades. Since 1989, AWB members and other private-sector donors have given more than $400,000 to rural families and children through the Holiday Kids' Tree project. (Photo: Jason Hagey/AWB)

An Olympia holiday tradition came to life on Friday with the lighting of the 29th annual AWB Holiday Kids' Tree.

The tree-lighting included songs of the season from Kids in Concert and a visit from Santa Claus himself.

As always, however, the heart of the evening took place in an ornate Capitol ballroom when gifts were shared with firefighters representing rural communities across the state. Secretary of State Kim Wyman and AWB President Kris Johnson gave out $1,000 checks to 18 fire districts, from Chelan and Spokane to Shelton. The funds were donated by AWB members and other private-sector donors who want to help spread holiday and Christmas cheer to families in need, as determined by those who know them in their own communities.

John Ostergard, a captain with the East Olympia Fire District. (Photo: Jason Hagey/AWB)
This tradition dates back decades. Several people in attendance have been involved since the earliest days of the Holiday Kids' Tree project.

Gabbie Sanchez, 20, sat in the wings of the State Reception Room at the Capitol, watching as her father, West Thurston firefighter Randy Sanchez, went forward with his colleagues to accept a $1,000 donation.

It was a familiar scene for Gabbie, who has been doing this her entire life. Her father has come to every ceremony since the program began. Gabbie can’t remember a Christmas where she hasn’t attended the tree-lighting ceremony.

“It’s just a great sense of community,” she said.

John Ostergard, a captain with the East Olympia Fire District, has likewise attended every ceremony since AWB began distributing funds to rural fire departments.

“It’s a pleasure and honor to do this,” Ostergard said. “It’s a pleasure and honor to pass along the funds to the community. We’re helping people all of the time. It’s wonderful to help in a different capacity.”

For more on the Holiday Kids' Tree project, including how to donate to make the holidays brighter for those in need, contact AWB's Bonnie Millikan.

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