Dawn Askew says the Grunion Gazette stole her idea.

"You've been doing it for 16 years?" she said last Sunday. "Then we've been doing it for 17."

"It" is collecting gift cards for WomenShelter at Christmas. Askew, who now lives in Alamitos Heights, said she has been hosting a game night holiday party for about two decades.

"It started as a gift exchange," she said. "Then we decided we didn't really need more stuff, so we started bringing gift cards."

The games — first bingo, then card games — involved small money pots; soon that too was going to charity. Askew was responsible for finding WomenShelter, which provides help to victims of domestic violence and abuse, as the recipient.

"WomenShelter always appealed to me," Askew said. "So I went down to their center and the director then (TuLynn Smylie) gave me a tour showing me what they do. I left in tears. That was it. It sold me."

Over the years, Askew's party, and the amount she was able to donate to WomenShelter, continued to grow. The tally last year was around $2,500, she said. She doesn't include her donation with the Grunion's card drive because she likes to know exactly where the donation goes, she added.

"It's just fun," Askew said of delivering her donation. "I remember when Mary Ellen (Mitchell, current executive director) came. She said I was her very first donation!"

Askew said she might be able to add a few people to her party — email her at askew562@aol.com.

Even easier, you could participate in the Grunion's Gift Card Drive. We've topped $8,000 so far, but we have just two weeks left to reach our $25,000 goal.

For the 16th year, Grunion readers are being asked to donate gift cards to WomenShelter to help domestic abuse victims. In addition to creating a Christmas for struggling families where there would otherwise be little or nothing, the cards are used all year long to help victims set up new homes, provide clothing and more.

WomenShelter uses the gift cards all year long, Mitchell said, to fill in the gaps that other aid doesn't reach. That's why cards from stores like Target and WalMart are particularly appreciated, because they are so versatile in what can be purchased — although cards from groceries and retail stores are gratefully accepted as well.

Grunion readers have been very generous in past years, raising about $320,000 since the drive began. Grunion Publisher Simon Grieve said this year's goal is $20,000.

"We've proven that's doable," Grieve said. "I'd really like to bust past that and get to $25,000."

Here's how to help. Purchase some gift cards, drop them by our office at 5225 E. Second St., or mail them to that address, attention Gift Card Drive, c/o Harry Saltzgaver. The zip code is 90803.

To donate on line, go to www.womenshelterlb.org/grunion/.

There's the potential for a Christmas treat for donors, too. 

The Aquarium of the Pacific is donating two tickets to donors who give $50 or more until the tickets run out, and everyone who donates will be entered into a drawing for prizes including a grand prize of a $500 gift certificate to Sevilla in downtown Long Beach.

Just be sure to include a self-addressed, stamped envelope if you mail a donation and want aquarium tickets, and give us an email for the drawing.

For more information, call 562-433-2000.

And thanks.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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