SAFETY EXIT

Holiday Baskets: Behind-the-Scenes

Holiday Baskets

October 26, 2017

Written by: Guest contributor, Lisa Shaffer

Lisa Shaffer and her husband, Steve Bartram, are long-time CRC supporters. Lisa served on the Encinitas City Council from 2012-2016.

What does it take to provide 1500 families in need with a dignified holiday shopping experience, choosing blankets, food, clothing and personal items, over a three-day period? How many shoppers can be served at a time, each one escorted by a volunteer host? How many shopping carts are needed and where do you find them? How can you distribute a limited number of bicycles so that it’s a surprise for the selected recipients, without creating disappointment in the others? What are the best items to put in special gift bags for seniors, for teens, or a person or family who does not have shelter? How can families waiting in line for their allotted start time be entertained and welcomed? Who has a chair for Santa to sit in?

Most CRC supporters know of the Holiday Baskets program. I recently sat in on a meeting of the Holiday Baskets Team Captains and CRC staff, and got a glimpse of what it takes to deliver this experience, year after year, for 35 years. An amazing team of CRC staff and volunteer leaders has answers to all the questions above. Working year-round to gather funds and donations, they recruit over 1000 other volunteers and together they will distribute 3000 toys, 6000 coats, 500 bicycles, and 1500 blankets, in addition to 50 tons of healthy food at the 35th annual CRC Holiday Baskets program, December 15-17 at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

All year long, CRC leadership works on Holiday Baskets, recruiting volunteers, identifying donors and sponsors, organizing pickup and storage of donations, screening and registering participants, and more. Over 50 service groups and many businesses and corporations play a major role in the success of this event by hosting donation drives and raising money in support of Holiday Baskets. For example, student volunteers from the San Dieguito Migrant Education Program serve as guides for families who shop during Holiday Baskets distribution. National Charity League, Rotary and dozens of other organizations get involved. In addition to the questions above, the volunteer leaders arrange for sorting and cleaning of blankets and outerwear, some of which comes from school lost and found collections; provide delivery of bicycles and other items that the families can’t take with them; and figure out how to lay out the massive Fairgrounds space to ensure adequate storage and efficient shopping.

For most of the families served, this IS their holiday shopping. Over time, CRC has expanded the program to include special gift packages for teens and for seniors. Employees at the Fairgrounds who are in need are also invited to register and participate. Careful analysis of past participants gives a projection of the percent of infants, youth, teens, etc. that can be expected, so there are enough toys and other items appropriate for each age.

What can you do?

The program is possible because of donations – time, money, and items. Through long-standing relationships, CRC is able to purchase food and other items at deep discounts and uses financial donations to ensure that enough of the right mix of offerings is available.

If you or your organization want to collect most needed items for Holiday Baskets, there is a holiday wish list here. This year there is a particular push to provide a gift bag for approximately 200 seniors, with items such as playing cards, shawls, postage stamps, note paper, puzzles, socks, pens and pencils, and tissues. New and clean, gently used blankets are also in short supply.

If you are able to give of your time, you can register to volunteer as an individual or a group. Help is needed sorting food and other items from December 4 through Dec. 14. Help is also especially welcome after the clients are served, packing up and managing what is left over, on December 18 and 19.