Throughout the holiday season, it’s important to showcase those within our community who go the extra mile to help others. And it’s easy to celebrate the amazing, year round generosity of Christy Upton ‘16, a recent Saint Martin’s University graduate in accounting.
“I didn’t participate in much community service as a child,” says Upton, noting that Saint Martin’s Benedictine values are what attracted her to the university. “At Saint Martin’s, many of my professors allowed extra credit for community service work. This made volunteering easy.”
When Upton’s children attended Horizons Elementary School in Lacey, there was a giving tree. “I thought it was such a wonderful idea,” she says. “That year, instead of gifts I asked my family to allow me to purchase items for the children in need.”
“Around that same time, the Lions Club was looking for a spot to house their eyeglass recycling program. My husband and I were leasing a building and had extra space,” she continues. “We donated this extra space to the Lions Club to start their recycling program. It was amazing to hear the stories of doctors who give away glasses in developing countries. People hike for days to reach them. It felt awesome to be a part of it. Over time, I became more involved in community service.”
“I have been on the receiving end of giving,” says the Saint Martin’s University scholarship recipient. “It felt amazing and as though the community put me through school. I hope to pay it forward.”
And pay it forward she has. The majority of Upton’s charitable work has kept to one simple theme: “My primary focus is children. They are young and innocent and lack the means to provide for themselves. I want to empower them to move beyond worrying about their basic needs, while also showing them a sense of community and compassion.”
Over the past few years, Upton collected and distributed clothes her local school district, helped with concessions at high school football games, and organized Giving Tree projects across the area.
In 2011, when the City of Tumwater announced they would cancel their Tumwater Holiday Program, Upton formed a tax-deductible nonprofit via the Lions Club to take over the outreach. “The programs have over 30 local businesses each year who assist families in need. The South Sound Reading Foundation also attends when we distribute the gifts so that every parent can pick out books for their children. I recently connected with another organization, Family Education and Support Services, which receives thousands of socks from factory seconds. This year I’m looking forward to providing all our children new socks, which our budget never allowed to happen before.”
This tireless activism has brought great rewards for families across our region.
“One year a school staff member told that while looking out her office window there was a father in tears, sitting in his car looking at the gifts we were able to help him provide for his children,” says Upton. “A school bus driver told me once how good it felt to see a little one wearing the shoes she had bought for a specific child anonymously through the program. I love the feedback from the givers too. It’s pretty incredible what people do.”
Upton recalls, “The first clothing distribution event we had, I was holding the door open for a little girl in kindergarten, her head peaked out above the big box of clothes and she said ‘This is the best store ever!’ She could pick out any clothes she wanted and it was all free. Her mom didn’t tell her she couldn’t have things. She called it the ‘Free Store.’ I’ll never forget her smile; I still sometimes refer to the clothing bank as the ‘free store.’”
Though the need is great, Upton doesn’t let herself get overwhelmed. “We have an awesome, generous community! It’s all about connecting the dots, connecting those who have the means and desire to give with those who are in need.”
And thanks to her organization and support, almost 1,000 children were helped in 2014 and 2015 alone.
Upton can also be found behind the scenes working toward voter levy and bond campaigns benefitting schools, community education round-table events, and teaching cybersecurity to parents with internet-savvy kids.
“Due to my busy schedule, I learned how to let others take control. This benefited not only me, but the programs by bringing new energy and ideas. Whenever I take on a project, I look at how I can create an efficient system for the next leader. My Saint Martin’s University education helped me see the big picture and the importance of continuing the programs beyond my involvement,” says Upton.
“When I think of the struggles of people in developing countries, providing Christmas gifts, food and clothing to children here in America doesn’t seem impactful,” says Upton. “However, it does make a difference and knowing this provides me with even more energy.”
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it,” said author William Arthur Ward. Thanks to Christy Upton, hundreds of schoolchildren can unwrap warm clothes, new shoes, and the everyday necessities we so often take for granted.