More than 100 volunteers, donning Santa hats, elf bells and reindeer antlers, came together last weekend to wrap toys and sort non-perishable food to be delivered to Oakley families in need. Now in its fifth year, the program moved to its new location at Almond Grove Elementary, but the spirit remained the same.
“The event was as magical as ever,” said Friends Vice President Pat Anderson. “The new location made the distribution logistics much easier. The families were grateful and the workers, even through the cold weather, were full of Christmas spirit from beginning to end. I’m so appreciative of all the returning volunteers. One family has helped for four years now, and I’ve gotten to watch their children, who also volunteer, grow. All the moments are special. This is truly a labor of love.”
Each year the Friends of Oakley give canned and dry foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, bread, potatoes and turkey to families in need. For families with children up to age 18, each child gets one wrapped gift. The Friends adopted 350 families this year, the most they’ve ever supported. The Friends also made care packages for local seniors – packages containing handmade potholders, puzzle books, candy and hygiene products. This year, the Friends received a large donation for the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, enabling them to donate fresh fruit and potatoes to the seniors.
As families drove through the distribution line to receive their gifts, many wiped away tears and praised the Friends of Oakley and its volunteers for their generosity. For first-time volunteer Diane Burgis, the experience put the meaning of the holidays into perspective. Burgis brought two of her sons with her to the event. While she chatted with families waiting in line, Jacob and Sam delivered toys.
“Talking with people going through tough times, it was a pleasure to give them encouragement,” said Burgis, a newly elected member of the Oakley City Council. “For those who have very little, it was nice to give them a little more. It was so exciting to put a bike in the back of a car for a child, to hand a bag of oranges to a carload of seniors that had come together, and to pass out hand-crocheted blankets to families with little babies.
“I saw people reaching out to each other and sharing the holiday spirit of love, generosity and caring. The way it worked out, those folks receiving food and gifts gave back tenfold to those passing things out.”
Friends of Oakley cofounder and Oakley Mayor Kevin Romick said the number of volunteers who help with the event always impresses him. While new faces appear every year, the Friends have regular volunteers who show up every December to help the event run smoothly and bring joy to those in need.
“The support from the community during this process has been incredible,” Romick said. “At every event, we elves came from across the community to participate. Some for the first time; others were old pros just stepping in and picking up where they left off in the past. Sunday was the culmination of all our work. Elves appeared one more time to help unload the over 6½ tons of perishable food items to be distributed with the previously boxed non-perishable food. It was a great way to begin the Christmas season.”
Oakley Elementary School teacher Cindy Tumin has volunteered for the Oakley Christmas Basket program since its inception in 2008. For the second year, she managed toy distribution and expressed pride in this year’s effort.
“I am always amazed that we pull it off!” said Tumin. “We have added families every year and yet it somehow comes together. We have wonderful, dedicated volunteers who jump in and do whatever needs to be done. None of this would be possible without them. By 5 p.m. we were tired and incredibly cold, but our hearts were warmed by all the good that had been accomplished.”