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Season of giving: Local agencies prepare to help those in need

The holiday season is a time to come together with family, but it is also a time to reach out and support those who are less fortunate. There are many donation drop-offs and food collection drives across San Diego, and the organizations behind those drives make it their mission to help those in need in the community.

The Community Resource Center, located in Encinitas, hosts a Holiday Basket Program, which brings the holidays to those who can’t afford it. The program began as an idea of neighbors helping neighbors and has since expanded. Community Resource Center CEO Paul Thompson has watched it grow from year to year.

“Our Holiday Baskets Program is a program we have been doing for the past 32 years. We’re aiming at providing 1,500 to 1,700 families with a holiday shopping experience at no cost to them, at the Del Mar Fairgrounds,” Thompson says.

The Holiday Basket Program takes place on Dec. 19, 20 and 21. On those dates, registered families will be invited into an area of the Del Mar Fairgrounds where they can pick from new unwrapped toys, sports gear and gifts for teens, gifts for adults and seniors, a selection of new and gently used winter clothing and blankets as well as food — including holiday turkeys.

“They can come in and literally pick items off the shelves. We have a demographic of the families, like how many children they have, their ages and if they have any disabilities. Our volunteers will assist them in picking out what would fit best,” Thompson says.

Eligibility for the program is based off of the family’s economic need and is done in partnership with other local organizations and churches. The program is something that the Community Resource Center plans and collects items for year-round; the huge event requires a lot of volunteers. Starting on Dec. 2, the space at the fairgrounds will be open and that’s when they begin setting up.

“We need volunteers to unload and sort the items, we have a contingent of volunteers who assemble bicycles and repair used ones,” he explains. “We also need volunteers to decorate the area, and of course some for the day of.”

For people looking to donate their time or items, some of their top volunteer needs also include people hosting drives for resources such as toys, blankets or jackets. Toys and other items for children and teens must be new and still in packages. The organization does accept very gently used blankets and winter clothing that have been washed.

The Community Resource Center also encourages families to volunteer together. Children under age 14 are required to work with their parents, and teens 14 and over need to have a signed parental consent form. For more information or to sign up to volunteer, visit the center’s online VolunteerSpot registration page.

“It’s a really cool thing to not only provide a unique shopping experience, but for these families it’s a really memorable experience,” Thompson says. “You’ll often see tears from mom and dad, who had no idea that they’d be able to provide these resources to their families. It’s very emotional.”

Interfaith Community Services is a nonprofit social center that aids the homeless and families in need, and has locations in Escondido and Oceanside. During the holidays, it does an Adopt a Family program where generous donors are matched with a family and fulfill their holiday wish. It also hands out holiday turkeys and opens and emergency winter shelter that remains open from Dec. 1 to March 31.

Interfaith Community Services Volunteer Coordinator Chelsea Buck emphasizes the importance of supporting others during the holidays.

“I feel like the holidays are a time when families come together and we feel loved, and that’s speaking for families with resources that have food. For those people who are sleeping on the streets alone, they don’t feel cared for,” Buck says.

Interfaith Community Services provides items to the homeless such as food, winter clothing and other items.

“It’s fulfilling a basic human need, but it brings comfort and joy and a sense of empowerment,” she says.

But volunteering shouldn’t be something that only takes place during the holiday season. Outreach and social centers become a stable force in many people’s lives. They offer programs that help people become self-sufficient and return to the workforce. They also become a safe haven for families or individuals who may be homeless or in emergency situations.

“The reality is there are people in our region that look just like you or just like me, that maybe both husband and wife have lost their jobs or they’ve had some economic situation. We’re here as a cushion for their needs,” says the Community Resource Center’s Paul Thomson.

Maile Rudebusch is a North County freelance writer

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Season of giving: Local agencies prepare to help those in need