Ravensdale woman's moment of clarity leads to gifts for the homeless

Casey Rust explains to Jamie Redick of Maple Valley and Ida Tribble of Auburn which items should be wrapped together during a work party Dec. 20. - Kris Hill
Casey Rust explains to Jamie Redick of Maple Valley and Ida Tribble of Auburn which items should be wrapped together during a work party Dec. 20.
— image credit: Kris Hill

Not long after her mother died, Casey Rust had a moment of clarity during the holidays 11 years ago.

She realized some of her efforts during the season would be better used by helping the homeless.

“It’s a Christmas tradition to take my children to go to the Old Spaghetti Factory and I would see all the homeless people and I wished I was rich and I could buy all of them something,” she said.

Rust, who lives in Ravensdale, began saving her pennies during the next year so she could get items to wrap and pass out to homeless folks in Seattle.

Now, there are more than a dozen women from Maple Valley, Covington, Renton, Auburn, Black Diamond and other South King County cities who collect donations, find items on sale, gather coats and then spend an evening in December at the home of Sara Acree Habryle wrapping it all in preparation for handing the gifts out on Christmas Day near Occidental Park.

“When we pull up they know we’re coming and they just swarm us,” Rust said.

In that first year, Rust did it on her own, and handed out 55 gifts. A year ago, they handed out more than 300 wrapped packages of shirts, hats, gloves, backpacks as well as hygiene items and candy canes.

Acree Habryle, who lives in Covington, first became involved with the effort seven years ago. Before long she brought along members of the widows group she belongs to in order to get all the wrapping done. She has known Rust for years because they lived in the same neighborhood in Maple Valley at one time and their children went to school together.

For a time after her husband died, Acree Habryle worked at the Ravensdale Post Office, where she reconnected with Rust.

“She told me what she and her sister were doing,” Acree Habryle said. “And I told her I wanted to be involved.”

From there, Acree Habryle got her daughter-in-law and grandchildren involved, and after that WICS, the support group for widows, came on board.

“The amazing thing to me, the reason I chose to do it with Casey, is because she chose the homeless people in Seattle because they’re throwaways,” Acree Habryle said. “That’s the reason these people get involved. Once you do it and see the happiness they get for one moment and 90 percent are thankful.”

One year, Acree Habryle took her son, who was a teenager at the time, along for the handing out of gifts on Christmas Day. She said he was resistant because he believed all the negative stereotypes about homelessness.

Then a young man about 21 years old changed her son’s perspective as well as her own, Acree Habryle said.

“He said, ‘I haven’t received a gift since I was 7 years old,’” Acree Habryle said. “I’ll never forget that.”

This small effort has gained considerable support. A business owner in Ravensdale handed Rust a check for $100 recently when she was on her way to the dollar store to shop for the gifts.

“I was in my glory,” Rust said. “That just made my day.”

She had about $40 for that shopping trip before she received that donation.

It’s a small reward for her desire to counter the excess that can come with Christmas each year.

Rust said it just makes more sense to her to spend money to help people at this point in her life.

“I just save my change all year and buy things on sale,” Rust said.

On Tuesday, while the country shut down for the holiday, Rust and Acree Habryle along with a number of other volunteers handed out hundreds of necessities and gifts to the homeless — all because of a moment of clarity for Rust on Christmas Day more than a decade ago.

Reach Assistant Editor Kris Hill at or 425-432-1209 ext. 5054.


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