The chilly first morning of winter wasn’t chilly enough to keep away nearly 400 families from St. John's Catholic School who took part in the annual community "gift basket" program.
Susan Graf, who for the past 13 years has been working on the program, was on hand giving last-minute instruction to the volunteers helping distribute the warm cloths, shoes, toys and other donated gifts to the families and the 1100 children.
“This is a wonderful program,” she said moments before the gymnasium doors opened at 9 a.m. “There’s no excuse for people to be cold and hungry.”
Almost $80,000 to support the program was raised Shared Ministries’ annual square dance, held the first Saturday of November. The total operating budget came to $125,000, with the difference being made up by other donations and gifts.
The program benefits the mostly Hispanic working class families of the area who are far from home and often with insufficient resources to enjoy the holiday season. As well as the shoes, clothes and toys for children, participating families are given a $35 gift certificate for food from Big John’s Market –
“We especially want to thank Wal-Mart in Windsor,” Graf added, “who gave a lot in coats and sneakers. And of course we couldn’t do what we do without.”
Clint Lutz, pastor of who has been tabbed as the next president of Shared Ministries, also roamed the scene, taking photos and giving encouragement to the 30-plus volunteers -- not all of whom had church affiliations.
The line of moms, dads and children stretched out the gymnasium door, around the corner of Tucker and almost all the way down East St. to Matheson. Young volunteers from the Civil Air Patrol helped manage the crowds, under the direction of Maj. Patricia Lay.
The CAP is an international organization with three missions—aerospace education, emergency services and a cadet program for youth age 12 – 21. The local chapter, Redwood Empire Composite Squadron 157 headquartered at the Sonoma County Airport, was represented at this event.
“It’s part of their community service, and they’re happy to help out,” said Lay of the young CAP members on hand.
By noon the partipating families had all received their warm coats, sneakers, toys and food certificates, and were that much closer to having a happy holiday in Healdsburg.