Holiday gift program brightens Valley spirits

Posted on December 11, 2018 by Sonoma Valley Sun


With gift requests from local families and individuals in need, the Christmas list for the Sonoma Valley Holiday Program is longer than ever. “The need is now “ said Constance Grizzell. “People have lost their jobs, their homes, their income. It’s time for those who can to step up.”

The all-volunteer group works closely with the school district and some 15 nonprofit agencies to identify locals in need – low-income families, emancipated youth, the elderly, and those living with homelessness or disability. Then the donors step in, with general support, or with funding ($100 or so per person) to adopt a specific family. They then receive a family’s Wish List, and can even shop for their gifts.

It’s that very personal connection to a real person, be it a child or homebound senior, that is the heart of the program. “It’s a one-to-one gift,” Grizzell explains. Even if it’s only a check, donors are told exactly how their money is spent. “It’s not just a nameless, faceless donation.”

Grizzell has been on the other side. As a child, she remembers when firemen came to the house to deliver, over the objections of her very proud mother, gifts and food. “I was so excited.” That feeling, and the need to respect the often conflicting emotions of adults, is a motivator.

“It’s all about dignity,” she says. “We make recipients feels as welcome and embraced as possible. It’s not just a handout.”

Any number of “adopters” can help out a family. Some team up with your neighbors, friends and classmates to make bigger wishes come true. But you don’t need to shop for an entire family to support the cause. The donation form offers options for a family or an individual, or to simply help out whoever needs it the most.

The gifting program's Winter Wonderland at the Marketplace Shopping Center.
The gifting program’s Winter Wonderland at the Marketplace Shopping Center.

Many donors have made a tradition of it, adopting a family with kids of similar ages to their own. It’s a very real way to learn compassion and empathy.

There’s also the story a one-time recipient who is now a proud donor. When the young woman and her family needed help, the program “shifted their world.” When things turned around for her, it was time “to pay it forward,” and become an active supporter.

That simple act, says Grizzelle, can offer “the sense that things are going to be OK. In a bleak time, it provides a bit of joy.”

One extra touch for families is the inclusion of wrapping paper, so the parents can wrap and personalize each gift. Grizzell relishes that idea of the excitement and joy of Christmas morning, “the image of making children smile.”

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