Twenty Years of Giving in Great Falls

Twenty Years of Giving in Great Falls

Local teens unload  more than 1,000 gifts from Wish List Angels at the Dec. 15 drive-through drop-off.

Local teens unload more than 1,000 gifts from Wish List Angels at the Dec. 15 drive-through drop-off. Photo contributed


Wish List Project Coordinators (from left) Julie Casso, Christie Shumadine, Lissa Perez, and Eleni Gianoplus.


Volunteer elves organize gifts on The Wish List: front to back – Belia Maxwell, Samantha Phillip, Taylor Kelso, Erin Cliff.

The spirit of giving is alive in Great Falls. At 10 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 15, Wish List Project coordinators Christie Shumadine, Lissa Perez and their 19 elves brace themselves for more than a thousand wrapped gifts and gift cards to be delivered over the next four hours.

This year, 357 individuals from seven area shelters and schools are on the Wish List. Donors, called Wish List Angels, choose a person or two or a whole family, for whom to buy, wrap and drop off gifts. When the Wish List is posted in mid-November, word travels fast. This year, a record 25 percent of the slots were matched with donors on day one. By the drop off event, 103 donors signed up to buy gifts and 40 gave nearly $5,000 in gift cards.

Coordination is the key to keeping that many presents organized. At the Perez home drop off, donors drive through and volunteer elves carry the presents from their cars. Gradually, the home, garage and guest house are filled with wrapped wishes. Lists were made and checked more than twice to be sure everyone on the list was complete.

Staff from Artemis House, Katherine Hanley Shelter, Fairfax Foster Teens, Hutchinson and Buzz Aldrin Elementary Schools fill their vans the next day and distribute gifts to recipients. According to decade-long donor Kathy Cooper, “I participate every year, because I just don’t want to see a child go without a Christmas gift.”

The generosity is awesome to see, according to four 13-year old volunteer elves. They noticed that most individuals got five to seven wrapped gifts from their list and many get more than 10. The middle-schoolers and other elves from Langley, Flint Hill and Thomas Jefferson didn’t mind giving up a Saturday to help. To keep the two dozen volunteers going through the day, Deli Italiano and others generously donated food.

The Wish List Project celebrates its 20th year. Ginger Mahon created the initiative in 2000 and continued to lead the project for 15 years. Coordinator Christie Shumadine helped with the project for 18 years and Lissa Perez for 9 years, before they took over in 2015, and put The Wish List online.

Why do these full-time professionals, mothers and youth coaches do it every year?

“I want to be a good role model for my kids, said Christie Shumadine. “It’s exhausting, but the kids’ enthusiasm motivates me to keep going.”

Other drives have been added in recent years - a Spring Break Food Drive, Toiletry Collection, Snack Food Drive and annual Thanksgiving Meal Baskets. See all about this giving group at and sign up to help throughout the next year.