Giving at Christmas: The Real Festive Gift

The festive season is well and truly upon us in the Bay Area, bursting through our front door without much warning just as Thanksgiving was packing its bags. A time traditionally devoted to peace, giving, generosity, family, and community, for many of us it’s a season more accustomed to baking, buying, wrapping and sending.

As our children start writing their lists to Santa, it’s a parenting no-brainer to want to encourage our children to think of others. Yet this year more than ever many of us feel an urge to do more than just make a financial pledge in response to a warm, gooey charity advert. We want to make a real difference.

If the thought of re-checking Amazon delivery times, shoveling more food into your shopping cart and listening to Frosty the Snowman on repeat leaves you feeling a little empty, maybe it’s time to step out of your comfort zone and look at where the real need is. It’s closer than you think.

Hunger is real for many in the Bay Area. 85% of families surveyed by Second Harvest Food Bank last year said that even with one steady income they were unable to make ends meet. Working adults have to choose between paying rent, paying bills or buying food – they are living a paycheck away from hunger. Senior citizens can end up choosing between medication or food, children are in school with empty stomachs.

Giving - A homeless person holds a humorous sign.

One in four people in San Francisco faces the threat of hunger. GLIDE is the only organization in the city to provide three nutritious meals a day to 2,000 of the city’s poor, homeless and hungry. In the lead up to Christmas GLIDE needs donations and volunteers to run their Toy Bag Giveaway for the children they support. You can volunteer to serve breakfast on Christmas Eve and on December 26th or help feed thousands of families and individuals on Christmas Day. They need 60 volunteers every day of the year to maintain their meal services and especially need Cantonese or Spanish speakers.

And it isn’t just San Francisco. On any one day, more than 5,000 people are at risk of becoming homeless or are already homeless in Marin County. St Vincent de Paul of Marin County provides compassionate care and support services to 10,000 people every year. Their Holiday Gifts of Love program gives people a chance to volunteer for ‘done in a day’ projects like prepping and serving holiday meals, donating food and clothing or buying and wrapping gifts. Check out their website to read the stories of specific individuals and families needing help right now and donate financial support directly to them.

Around 3,000 vulnerable children a year receive a Christmas gift through the Viola Blythe Community Center in Newark with donations currently being collected through Alameda and Newark.  The charity supports homeless, hungry men, women and children and runs a dedicated Holiday Program. They need volunteers to help organize a children’s party, collect Christmas food and toy baskets and manage a toy drive.  

The Bay Area is experiencing the greatest shortage of homes for foster children in history. Children who are victims of abuse, neglect, and abandonment need loving volunteers to wrap support around them, especially over the holidays when expenses mount and temperatures drop. Currently, there are 300 homes needed for children. Foster placements are often made with little notice, so gift cards and gently used or new clothing can help a foster family be prepared for their new arrival, especially during the holiday season when the smallest comforter can bring some peace to a child facing an unimaginable crisis. Help One Child in Los Altos recruits, trains and supports those volunteers willing to help.

Giving at Christmas

The holidays can be an especially hard time for young people who face family issues, financial trouble or mental health challenges. On any given night nearly 1,000 youth are living homeless in Santa Clara County, but a far greater number of homeless children are out of sight. The Bill Wilson Center has been providing support services to runaways and homeless youths since 1973, and currently works with more than 35,000 youth, young adults and families a year. In addition to their Adopt a Family Holiday Giving Program the organization needs year-round support for telephone counselors, case aides, and volunteers for the drop-in center in Downtown San Jose.

By the time some of us get around to considering holiday volunteering most sign ups are full. It often takes time to process new volunteers, and organizations giving out gifts or clothing to their clients will be done by mid-December. The New Year is especially hard for those in need when festive help tapers off. More than ever our local community needs our giving, it needs us now, in January and beyond.

We can learn a lot about our community when we meet each other to exchange support. So as you light your candles, wrap the tinsel and bake your cookies, spare more than a thought and offer more than a hashtag for those who are dreaming of far more than a White Christmas. It’s the season to make a difference! Giving is easier and far more rewarding than you might imagine.

About Louise Griffin

Originally from the UK Louise became a Bay Area native five years ago when a corporate move gave her the chance to see if she might enjoy a different kind of life. The sun, friendships, food, landscape and lifestyle make it a no brainer but she still misses the UK and loves contrasting the differences between the two countries because it gives her a yardstick to reflect on how she might be changing through this experience. Her new life is based on the essence of community – sharing, supporting and learning. As a professional fundraiser she is always keen to sniff out community need and use her skills to make a difference. She lives in San Mateo with her husband and two young children.

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