Every year since the 1970s, the Cannon Beach American Legion Post 168 and local volunteers have spent almost a week gathering, organizing and distributing items to make sure families have food on their tables and gifts under their trees during the holidays.
This year, the post’s Community Christmas Basket Program delivered children’s gifts, whole turkeys and various other items, from milk to paper towels, to 55 households. About 30 people total were involved in preparation, food gathering and wrapping the toys, said Dan O’Reilly, the post’s commander.
“The American Legion is the one that puts it all together and gathers all the toys and food,” O’Reilly said. “We get this all going without the city’s help. It’s very significant.”
On Thursday, Dec. 22, the American Legion Post 168 building was filled with piles of wrapped presents — games, puzzles, books, stuffed animals and more — meticulously organized by age group and household.
“It’s a big job trying to figure out who gets what,” said Nancy Teagle, who has volunteered for the program for about 20 years.
The American Legion helps deliver gifts that kids wish for from the “Giving Tree” at U.S. Bank, containing cards with items that people in the community can purchase.
Maddy Wrege, 10, was volunteering for the fourth year.
“These are the most toys we’ve had for awhile,” she said. “I like delivering because I like seeing the people’s expressions.”
By Friday, the presents were delivered and volunteers, including police officers and firefighters, helped load and deliver food boxes to low-income apartments at Elk Creek Terrace and Shorewood Apartments and other Cannon Beach households.
Since 1977, American Legion Vice Commander Don Boehm has organized the program and shopped for food. The program began when someone donated $5,000 for Christmas baskets.
“We’ve carried that on,” Boehm said. “We’re here for the community. We wish to thank all the people who donate and make it known that we appreciate their support.”
Volunteers Stacie Gilligan and Heidi Lent have coordinated the food baskets for about seven years.
“It takes us about a week to get it done,” Lent said. “It’s very necessary. The American Legion is the only service organization in Cannon Beach, so it felt natural for them to take this on.”
Some items are donated by community members, food banks or local businesses like Bruce’s Candy Kitchen. The rest is purchased by the post’s charitable account, which comes from donations and proceeds from fundraisers. It cost about $3,500 to $4,000 to fill the food baskets, Gilligan said.
Police Chief Jason Schermerhorn — assisted by 12-year-old son Jackson — said the officers help with the program each year.
“It’s such a good partnership,” Schermerhorn said. “This is one of those things that officers love to do, and it’s great for people to see a different side of the police officers. We’re actually doing what we want to do, which is help people, and we appreciate the legion for keeping us involved.”
Siblings Silvia and Christian Avila volunteered for the Christmas basket program with their mother, Mirian Luna.
“I have time and I want to help,” Christian said. “I’ve always lived in Elk Creek so I’ve experienced this from the other perspective … I feel like we kind of took it for granted. This doesn’t happen everywhere else. I think it’s a sigh of relief for the parents. They will buy one or two things for each child, but having this much more to bulk up what’s under the Christmas tree really helps.”
A volunteer firefighter, Silvia said she decided to volunteer because she enjoys helping others.
“It’s what we do in the fire department,” she said, “and Christmas is my favorite holiday.”