Spanish-speaking volunteers help with Christmas Fund

December 6, 2018

Skagit Valley Herald Christmas Fund phone bank volunteers (from left) Santos Dominguez, Paula Plummer and Fidel Castellanos answer phones Tuesday afternoon.

MOUNT VERNON — About half the people calling to register their families for the Skagit Valley Herald Christmas Fund speak Spanish, fund administrator Lynn Postler said.

In the past, the fund had difficulty finding Spanish-speaking volunteers to man the phones.

“There were days when no one (manning the phones) spoke Spanish,” Postler said.

In the past few years, bilingual volunteers from the Mount Vernon Sea Mar clinic have stepped in to make sure Spanish-speaking families have a chance to register for the fund.

“We’re part of the community and we want to give back; that’s who we are,” said Colleen Pacheco, special populations program manager at Sea Mar.

In between calls at the fund office Tuesday, Sea Mar translator Fidel Castellanos said he has spoken with several families who said they couldn’t register to receive gifts in previous years because they couldn’t communicate with fund volunteers over the phone. Castellanos speaks English, Spanish and Mixtec.

For the past two or three years, the fund’s two Spanish phone lines have been manned almost exclusively by volunteers from Sea Mar, Pacheco said.

“Its been a real asset for Sea Mar to step into this,” Postler said.

Joanna Soto, a front desk receptionist at Sea Mar, said she’s been able to help many Spanish-speakers get registered, and she’s improving her own Spanish in the process.

Registration for the fund ends Friday. There are 1,246 families — including 3,524 children — registered so far, Postler said.

Eligible families must be Skagit County residents, have custody of one or more dependent children and have a family income under 150 percent of federal poverty guidelines.

In 2017, the fund was able to reach 5,169 children and 3,397 adults through collaborations with the Skagit Valley Herald, Community Action of Skagit County, Sea Mar, Toys for Tots, the Mount Vernon Fire Department and 250 volunteers. More than $106,000 was donated by 390 donors.

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