A time for giving | SierraSun.com

A time for giving

RenZe Shadforth

Photo by Colin FisherA volunteer helps wrap a present for the Toys for Tots toy drive.

For his first-ever appearance at the Toys for Tots Drive for Truckee Families, Santa was a little late. Just like everyone else on Highway 20, and elsewhere in the area, he and his helper were stuck behind a blockade of semis on the way to Truckee.

“Santa was in Grass Valley and had a hard time getting over the summit,” said Debbie Sajdak, the toy drive coordinator and Soroptimist member. “It was very impressive that he made the attempt to come out.”

However, Santa’s tardy arrival did not stop 186 families from lining up in the hallway outside the Tahoe Truckee High School cafeteria for the Dec. 21 event, coordinated by the Truckee Community Christmas Committee (TCCC).

“This whole event of Christmas giving has been going on in town for well over 20 years,” said TCCC President Joan Hartwell. “At one point, the event became so large that we needed an umbrella committee to organize the event.”

An estimated 95 volunteers from various local groups helped with the effort to get presents, food and gift cards to those in need for the holiday. Volunteers also took donations to 31 senior citizens and six families that were homebound.

Members of the TCCC, who have supervised the drive for eight years now, found the families through local schools and social service agencies and gave them applications. Then, the committee reviewed the applications and sent postcard invitations to qualifying families.

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“If they were already receiving help from other social service agencies, they should qualify for our program,” Hartwell said. “These are people who need help.”

And help they got. Since Thanksgiving, the TCCC had collected more than $10,000 in cash donations for the drive. Also, residents and visitors gave more than 800 toys and countless food items in bins set up by local businesses around town.

There were so many donations, the Soroptimist volunteers had to empty the toy barrels several times per week.

“We do all of the organizing for the toys,” Sajdak said. “We’ve been bringing them in by the truckload. We set up the barrels, unload the toys, wrap them and then organize each family by bag.”

In addition to the Soroptimists’ toy drive, the Church of the Mountains collected warm coats for the families, which were located on racks in the hallway, so participants could select coats while waiting in line to pick up their gift bags.

So each family would get age- and gender-appropriate presents, the TCCC sent them a number with their invitation.

“We don’t use any names because of the families’ need for assistance from community organizations,” Sajdak said. “We want to make the toy drive as confidential and personal as possible. Most of the children who participate in the drive go to school in this area. It’s a pride issue. We want them to feel comfortable asking for help.”

After families collected their bags of toys, the volunteers from the Tahoe Sierra Board of Realtors, who organized the food drive, gave each family a box of food.

Food drive co-chairs Brian Grocott and Lori Greer said the community response had been overwhelming.

“It’s been amazing how much the community got involved,” Grocott said. “This is the first time I’ve volunteered for something like this. We’ve had a lot of people step up to the plate. It makes me really proud to live in Truckee.”

Although the community response was positive-and the donations plentiful-the drive did not quite measure up to past years.

“This year there were more families needing help than last year,” Hartwell said. “The donations were still generous, but a little less than last year. But, that’s understandable because of the poor state of the economy right now.”

Regardless, the gift recipients – 134 girls and 178 boys, all from Truckee – were eager receive their Christmas presents. However, most of the children will not get to unwrap their treasures until the big day.

“These presents are going under the tree,” one mother said, pointing to her 4-year-old daughter, who could barely manage to carry her white plastic bag full of gifts for herself and her younger brother. “She’s going to have to wait until Christmas.”

For more information on the Truckee Community Christmas Committee and other participating organizations, call Joan Hartwell at (530) 587-7945.