A donation drive in Eatonville is shining a light on a small town of residents with big hearts. A local business owner and a retired Boeing mechanic are emblematic of that generosity.
Nancy Mettler, owner of Mountain Fitness, and Harry Everett, Eatonville’s resident Santa Claus, are both committed to spreading holiday cheer in the Mount Rainier foothills town of 2,800 people.
And few things are more cheerful than shiny new bicycles for low-income kids.
Mettler started the Santa Bike Drive in 2009 and holds it every other year. She wanted to help less fortunate families surprise their kids with what she calls a “wow gift” on Christmas day.
The goal that first year was to collect 20 bikes; the town came together and donated 79.
“It is pretty awesome to see 80 bikes lined up on the street the day that we collect,” Mettler said. “I had no idea it would be this big.”
The bike drive benefits Eatonville Family Agency, a nonprofit that supports low-income residents within Eatonville School District boundaries.
In 2011, bicycle donors gave another 78, and Mettler said she hopes to collect at least as many this year. She’s already received dozens of cash and bike donations.
Everett, 72, was an agency donor long before the bike drive gained traction.
He started giving food, coats and other necessities about eight years ago with his wife, Linda.
The couple started donating bikes about four years ago, and Everett continues to give in his wife’s honor. She died nearly two years ago.
Every year, he takes advantage of holiday sales and buys anywhere from 10 to 15 bikes as well as dozens of coats to give away.
“At the time I started this thing, things were real hard,” Everett said. “Why not help out our local people?”
This year, he’s already picked out 18 bikes he’ll purchase when the price is right; he has ordered 25 coats and picked up baby formula and diapers for the food bank.
He says he’s paying it forward to a community that helped him and his wife through hard times.
Everett also dresses as Santa Claus several times each holiday season to hand out candy canes, and will be in Eatonville’s annual holiday parade for the first time this year — in character.
Spreading happiness and Christmas cheer -- “that’s what it’s all about,” he said. “You’ve got to do that.”
Everett’s holiday trimmings also help his cause. Every year he covers his yard with nearly 50 Christmas-themed inflatable decorations and places food bank donation boxes at the end of the driveway to collect items from spectators.
“I decorate heavy every year,” he said. “I’ve been doing it for 40 years.”
Lori Culver, Eatonville Family Agency executive director, said Everett is a “big hero” to the nonprofit. Mettler’s efforts also are greatly appreciated.
“There are families in need, and those numbers are growing,” Culver said.
She said the nonprofit gives between 250 and 300 families Christmas baskets and toys each year.
About 1 in 3 registered families get bicycles; parents enter a raffle and the winners get to surprise their kids on Christmas.
Mettler said not everyone has to give big like Everett; she encourages people to donate what they can in cash or coordinate with a group of people to buy a bike.
Eatonville’s donation numbers are turning heads outside the town. George Hight, coordinator for Pierce County Toys for Tots, said Eatonville collects just as many bikes as his program does countywide.
Toys for Tots averages about 60 to 80 bikes every year, part of an average 54,000 toys it distributes.
“I’m thrilled for them,” Hight said of the Santa Bike Drive organizers.
Hight, who grew up in a small town, said that level of support comes from a strong sense of care and loyalty to one another that’s hard to find in bigger cities.
“People in small towns have a greater feeling of community,” he said.
Everett is a firm believer in maintaining a tight-knit community, especially during the holiday season.
He said every child should have a great Christmas, no matter how tough times get for their parents.
“Christmas is about sharing and helping other people,” he said. “Kids should never have to suffer.”