In its third year, the nonprofit Friends of Oakley provided boxes of food and wrapped toys to 252 Oakley families, plus care packages for 54 senior citizens. It took months of planning, thousands of donations and hours of final preparations, but the event went without a hitch.
“It was wonderful,” said organizer Pat Anderson. “It feels so good to give back to the community and watch all the volunteers pitch in and see the gratitude on the faces of the families we helped this year – that’s Christmas to me.
“Times are hard for a lot of people, and a lot of charities were under-supported this year, but Oakley was supportive of this program. With all the donations we received, every family got two large boxes of food plus a turkey.
“I am so proud of this community. We have an amazing community filled with people who want to help each other, and because of their kindness, 252 more families will be able to enjoy Christmas this year.”
Families who registered for aid in advance arrived at O’Hara Park Middle School to find a crew of 50 volunteers ready to deliver food and toys straight to their cars. Many volunteers wore Santa hats or red and green elf caps, serving as Santa’s helpers to more than 1,000 members of the Oakley community. For 9-year-old volunteer Cristina Rossi, participating in the event was a “big life experience.”
“My mom told me about the program and how it helps the needy people in Oakley, so we’re here to help make Oakley a better place,” said Rossi, a fourth-grader at Laurel Elementary. “I’ve been helping take boxes to the cars, and it makes me really happy to see the smiles on the people’s faces when we bring them the food and the toys and wish them merry Christmas. It feels good to know that we’re making sure people in Oakley have a good Christmas.”
While Rossi was getting hands-on experience in helping out in the community, Friends of Oakley member and event volunteer Norma Marin took a moment to step back and watch the event unfold. As a member of Oakley’s Happy Hookers Crochet Group, she helped make the blankets nestled into seniors’ care packages, accompanied by puzzle books, a mug with tea packets, and a small wrapped gift. She also helped wrap gifts for the children and sort food the day before the distribution event. Once the big moment had arrived, Marin was so moved by the community support that tears formed in her eyes as she watched volunteers take food and toys to the cars.
“This event starts off like a spark,” Marin said. “There’s this idea for the community to come together to support those in need, and we each keep the spark lit all year long inside us and then today, it’s like the Fourth of July. All those sparks have come together to make something truly special happen.
“Oakley is like one big family. I’m so proud of all of the volunteers who have come out to help. I get emotional just thinking about it. I’ve cried several times this week because I am so overwhelmed by all of this love and support. This is a magical day.”
Friends of Oakley President Kevin Romick was also pleased with the turnout and expressed his gratitude for the community support. “The support from the community during this process has been incredible,” he said. “The success for this event was due to the volunteers who participated during the entire process. The Friends of Oakley would like to acknowledge and extend our sincere thanks to all of these individuals for their generous participation in this annual endeavor. Thank you all and may your holidays be joyous and fulfilling.”