Riette Walker of Independence was looking for the right gift for her 2-year-old son. She just started a new job at a call center, and some help from the community is welcome.

“It makes it easier for me this Christmas,” she said Tuesday morning, as the Community Services League kicked off its annual Christmas stores.

There are five, in Buckner, Grain Valley, Blue Springs and, in Independence, on Noland Road and in Fairmount. At the Noland Road site, for example, about 600 families – with more than 900 children – started signing up in November. Donations of gifts – everything thing from hats and gloves to toys to Christmas trees for those who win one in a drawing – come from all over, and it takes dozens of volunteers.

“It is all volunteer driven,” said Doug Cowen, the group’s president and CEO.

Walker said it goes deeper than gifts and a Christmas dinner. It’s a connection to the holiday spirit, she said, and she mentioned the Bible’s story of the good Samaritan, the story of the man who goes out of his way to help a complete stranger – a man robbed, beaten and left for dead – after others have passed him by.

“There are good people in the world,” Walker said. “So everybody’s not just out to hurt somebody.”

One of the volunteers is Martha Watts, a retired Independence school teacher who has been putting in about 40 hours a week for the last month or so, getting ready for this week. She’s done this for about 15 years and said it’s good to see help going to children in the neighborhoods where she used to teach.

“This is one non-profit that, as much as possible, (every donation) goes back into the community,” she said.

The store works like this: A volunteer walks each client through, first past office cubicles converted to kiosks passing out hats, gloves, scarves and underwear for kids.

“We primarily focus on the kids,” Cowan said.

Then is a room full of toys and, new this year, lots of books, thanks in large part to a major donation this fall from a nationwide book-giving operation. The Community Services League was among the recipents.

“Every kid gets a book or two, and an activity book,” Watts said.

Also available: paper, bows and tape for wrapping presents. And finally, the makings of a Christmas ham dinner in a box. Organizers were coming up a little short this year, and Smithfield Farms donated 102 Farmland hams.

That’s one example of the partners and donors the Community Services League works with.

“We work with lots of – lots of – partners,” Cowan said.

More than 40 churches, companies and service clubs have provided donations including Haldex, Fike, GEHA, Dillard’s, the Unity congregation in Independence, Missouri Employers Mutual, Edward Jones and Sunrise Montessori. Volunteers are coming from Comcast, the Independence Police Department and some Community of Christ congregations.

CSL also has a food pantry, and Cowan said tax credits are available to those who want to make a contribution. That’s a consideration for many as the end of the year nears as people look ahead to filing their tax returns.

The state has set aside $1.25 million in tax credits for food pantries. Half of what’s donated can be taken off your taxes, with a maximum of $10,000 – a $5,000 writeoff – for a couple. There is paperwork.

“They do need to talk with us to let us know their intentions,” Cowan said. Call Nicole Underwood at 816-219-3084 for more information.

Cowan said the tax credit works well.

“It’s helped us raise tens of thousands of dollars for our food pantry,” he said.