The True Meaning of the Season

I know many of you are probably getting into the holiday season. San Jose (and I’m sure other cities) have had holiday decorations up around town for a couple of weeks now. In downtown San Jose, you can already go ice skating, and the tree lighting ceremony will be Nov. 28 at Christmas in the Park. (More info on that here). And I’m sure holiday festivities are starting around the South Bay each day.

But I have to admit, I’m becoming somewhat of a humbug. It started two years ago, actually. All the stress of buying gifts for people seemed futile. The people I was buying for didn’t need anything. I didn’t want anything from them, except maybe some time to spend together over dinner or drinks. So last year I decided – no gifts. Instead, I would be giving my precious (and few) hard-earned dollars to those who needed it. Did my friends and family miss the presents? Not one bit. Especially when I told my mom, who works for the Girl Scouts, that I was donating money to her organization. And I told my pet-loving friend I’d be donating to the local SPCA. They didn’t mind one bit.

Call me Charlie Brown, but the holidays have become so focused on presents, that I’m afraid people are forgetting about those who will be the coldest, the hungriest this season.

Now more than ever we need to keep those less fortunate in mind. We’re facing an economic “recession” (a euphemism, I’m convinced), and the local foodbanks will be seeing more hungry, hopeful faces this holiday season than they’ve seen in a few decades.

As a board member of a local nonprofit, I can tell you firsthand that charities are hurting. They’ve been hurting for the last couple of winters, but this year is bad. People are scared, and are grabbing that wallet tight – for good reason. But we can’t forget that our neighbors need our help. Even if it’s $20, or 10 cans of food.

To raise awareness that charities need your help, the Silicon Valley Open Arms Coalition was created by local funders and nonprofits. The website gives several ways for people to contribute this holiday season, depending on which organization they’d like to support. Some of the nonprofits involved are First 5, Second Harvest Food Bank, Sobrato Family Foundation, Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, and The Health Trust.

United Way Silicon Valley was the impetus behind the coalition formation. The organization sent a “pulse survey” to local nonprofits to see how other organizations were faring, and created the coalition when the responses showed that most are facing a significant increase in demand, and decrease in support. Facts from the survey include:

  • More than 62 percent of survey respondents from Santa Clara County reported a drop in revenue from July 1 to September 30, compared to the same period last year.
  • More than 58 percent of respondents reported an increase in demand for services during that same timeframe compared to last year.
  • From July 1 to September 30, 52 percent of respondents from Santa Clara County experienced a decrease in donations by individuals, 40 percent saw a decrease in corporate and foundation giving, and 26 percent had a decrease in state and local government funding, compared to the same period last year.
  • Of those Silicon Valley nonprofits that experienced an increase in demand for their services between July 1 and September 30, compared to the same period last year, nearly 69 percent were able to meet that demand while 31 percent were not.
  • From July 1 to September 30, 2008, calls to United Way’s 2-1-1 Santa Clara County information and referral service seeking food increased 55 percent over the same period last year. Requests for housing jumped 20 percent.
  • Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County has seen a 37 percent increase in clients over the last year and a 41 percent rise in the number of seniors participating in its senior nutrition program.
  • Second Harvest Food Bank reports that from July to September 2008, the amount of food distributed increased 22 percent over the same period last year. The number of people served rose 17 percent while requests for food assistance jumped 55 percent.

So now is the time to help. Whether it’s $10 or $20, or some cans from your own pantry, it will help! For information about the Silicon Valley Open Arms Coalition, visit their website.

Having said all that, I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t mention the Milpitas Food Pantry. After reporting for the Milpitas Post for a year (and a couple internships before that), I’ve watched the Milpitas Food Pantry struggle for the last few holiday seasons. I was there on Thanksgiving two years ago, watching volunteers from the city bag dinners for their neighbors. It was heartwarming and heartbreaking all at once. The people at the Milpitas Food Pantry do so much good, and need the donations to serve the city.

I would also get rocks thrown at me if I didn’t mention my own charity – TurningWheels For Kids. Like the aforementioned charities, we’re struggling to meet our goals and demands this year financially. Fortunately, we have a huge supply of willing volunteers! Thanks to everyone who signed up to volunteer at the Bike Build this year – it’s going to be great! Well, it’ll be great if we can get enough bikes … feel free to donate here.

I hate to be a curmudgeon, I hate to bear the bad news, but the holiday season is for giving – so I urge you, give to those who need it. More people need it this year than in the past few decades – now is the time. As the TWFK director, Sue Runsvold always says – If not now, when? If not you, then who?

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