“The Grinch placed a hurdle in front of us but was unable to stop Christmas,” Oakley Mayor Kevin Romick wrote in an e-mail to the Press. “The response from people, both near and far, young and old was incredible. E-mails ranging from a retired school teacher in North Carolina looking to help to school children gathering pennies to help make up for the loss made the day a total success. To everyone who contributed food, toys, money and most of all your time, thank you.”
The Friends of Oakley registered 300 families to receive aid this year, but things were looking grim for the Christmas program when Friends volunteers discovered their collection of donated goods had been ransacked. As news of the theft spread throughout East County, the Bay Area and the nation – the story even made “Good Morning America” – people donated in droves to make up for the lost food and toys and keep the program on target to meet its goal.
Based on the outpouring of support, the Friends were able to provide each family with three boxes of canned and dried goods, assorted fruits and vegetables, a sack of potatoes and a turkey. The Friends also supplied a toy for each child, under the age of 18, registered through the program. The response for toy donations was so overwhelming that children 10 and younger received a second toy, making this the most successful Friends of Oakley Christmas Basket program since it started in 2008.
Despite the approach of Christmas, Santa made time to come out to Oakley to load cars with goods and wish people Merry Christmas. As people waited in their cars to receive their baskets, Santa strolled about, chatting with children and handing out candy canes.
“I heard about what happened here in Oakley and I had to stop by,” Santa said. “I don’t understand why someone would try to take Christmas from these folks, but the Friends of Oakley came through. And I am so proud of these volunteers – especially the little ones. A lot of people in this community will be on the Nice List this year.”
When asked if a lump of coal is headed to the culprit behind the theft, Santa gave a nod and whispered, “And some jail time wouldn’t hurt.”
Although no arrests have been made in the case, Friends of Oakley members are grateful that the community – including volunteers from as far as Ripon, nearly 50 miles away – came through to fulfill the promise made to more than 1,000 residents in need.
“We’re so blessed,” said Friends Vice President Pat Anderson. “It’s incredible that so many people were able to look past their own needs, open their hearts and help this community. The toys and the money mean so much, but the people who donated their time to make this happen – it’s incredible.”
Friends of Oakley President Jim Frazier completed the Christmas Basket giveaways Monday by delivering gift bags to seniors at the Commons at Oak Grove Apartments. Now that the program is done for the year, Frazier and the rest of the Friends and volunteers get a moment to relax and enjoy their own holiday festivities. But for Frazier, Sunday’s distribution event was a gift in itself.
“That’s my Christmas,” Frazier said. “It’s wonderful to have so many volunteers come out and offer to help. I got to sit back and watch this year because there were so many people who wanted to help that I didn’t really have anything to do other than supervise. It warms your heart to see so many people come together for this selfless act. We’re very blessed.”