It's unlikely Dyan Vaughan could have predicted how her daughter's eighth grade service project could grow to impact the East Bay Community in such a remarkable way. Cara Beller started a Christmas "Giving Tree" in her early teens...and from that one seed a mighty Christmas tree has grown. Over a dozen years later, this project, born of a young woman's desire to give less fortunate children an opportunity for a happy Christmas, has touched countless local families. In the early years the Giving Tree brought in enough toys and clothing gifts to provide about 50 kids a proper holiday, which was a significant undertaking.
Four years ago Dyan and Cara asked if they could bring their Christmas for Kids program under the auspices of the East Bay Food Pantry. At the time, the EBFP was only one year young, but the program really took off and provided holiday gifts for 125 children of families who were receiving food assistance. Each year, as EBFP has expanded its reach to accommodate a growing need, Christmas for Kids has grown as well. The process begins in the Pantry where families sign up their children, providing the names, ages, sizes and a list of needs and wants, all very helpful to those who shop for and donate the gifts.
"Each year we've added at least another 100 children," explained Ms. Vaughan. 2013's service number has passed 425 children...with last minute emergency requests still coming in.
As the program has grown, fortunately other local elves have brought their own creativity and talents to help coordinate this community wide effort. Nicki Tyska (Bristol Marine), Kara Rocha (Nutrition 4 Life) and Lauren Martel (Naturally Divine Nutrition) all of Bristol, have joined Dyan and Cara with a divide and conquer approach. The four team captains divide up the names of the children, initiate toy drives and recruit donors through their contacts in the community, partnering with local organizations, churches, businesses and individuals too numerous to list.
As gifts are collected, storage and organization become a huge challenge. Donors are generous, often providing multiple gifts for each child combining essentials like socks and mittens, with “fun” items like Legos and dolls. Tyska described her own system for storing the gifts. "I turn my guest room into Christmas Central."
This year, on December 13th, these dedicated elves and their crew of volunteer helpers unloaded the overflowing "SUV sleighs" of gifts collected and set up a very organized gift-giving operation in the community room of Franklin Court. From 10am to 2pm, the EBFP “elves” welcomed a stream of very appreciative parents and guardians who collected generously filled gift boxes and bags with Christmas treasures especially selected for their children.
One mother of three said, “I’m grateful for what you do for my family.” Another parent stated, “Thank you for helping take some stress out of this holiday season and replacing it with hope.” And the most moving testimony came from the mother of one of EBFP’s largest client families, “This brings tears to my eyes. I really struggle with nine kids who are adopted. This is a God-send!”
Christmas truly is a time for kids and Christmas for Kids does its best to bring the wonder of the season to as many children as possible. To sum up the spirit of this program, we borrow from the writings of 20th Century Journalist George Matthew Adams, "Let us remember that the Christmas heart is a giving heart, a wide open heart that thinks of others first."
So to Dyan, Cara, Nicki, Lauren, Kara, and their helpers, the East Bay Food Pantry and all the wonderful East Bay Secret Santas who make Christmas for Kids a possibility: Thank you all for your wide open Christmas hearts.