Community Christmas kicks off the season |

Community Christmas kicks off the season

Ryan Salm/Sierra Sun file photoElmo sits in the foreground at a past Community Christmas, where gifts were distributed to children from more than a hundred families.

The holidays can be a tough time of year, especially for families and individuals who can’t afford to buy gifts or put food on the table.

Recognizing that many residents in the Truckee community were facing these discomforts, a group of local volunteers founded the Truckee Community Christmas organization.

“It’s an umbrella organization for people in the community who want to give to families at Christmas time,” said board president Joan Hartwell.

The volunteers donated food, gifts, clothing and cash during the holidays for more than 20 years, but it wasn’t until 1996 that the group established a board of directors and qualified as a nonprofit organization.

The tax status allows donations to be tax-deductible.

Many participants, including the Soroptimists, local Realtors, grocery stores and banks, collect food, clothing, and toys for Community Christmas to distribute during the holiday season. Collection barrels for food items are set up at area stores the weekend following Thanksgiving, and toy barrels appear around town shortly after.

“We work with a lot of agencies in town such as the local schools, Tahoe Women’s Services, and the Family Resource Center to find out who needs help,” Hartwell said.

In addition to the gifts and clothes dropped off at various locations, the Truckee Community Christmas organization also collects monetary donations that go toward buying food gift-cards for people in need.

“The gift cards allow families to buy perishable food items that cannot be donated during the food drives,” said Hartwell. “Last year, we were able to give $100 to every household on our list.”

The number of people who received food, clothing or toys last season included more than 150 families, and another 60 seniors and nearly 40 homebound residents.

Dividing the nearly $20,000 raised last year among so many recipients limits what the organization can provide. However, being able to ensure that families have enough to eat and children have a new toy during the holiday season is still very satisfying, said Hartwell.

Besides fundraising, Truckee Community Christmas serves as a volunteer coordination agency. The work involved in collecting donations, sorting them, wrapping the gifts and dividing them among individuals and families takes time and effort.

“The community response as far as donations go is fabulous,” said board member Pat Callahan. “But we could always use more volunteers for food sorting and toy wrapping.”

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