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Christmas Cheer regroups

Greg Risling

Tarnished by claims of in-house mismanagement, Christmas Cheer is making great strides to resolve some of its problems.

Attorney Dale Sare has been retained by the organization to restore some composure after three contentious weeks during which the board of directors dissolved and allegations flew.

Sare is drafting papers this week for Cheer’s nonprofit status in California, a requirement that has been put off for several years. The organization is incorporated as nonprofit in Nevada but Christmas Cheer’s office is located at 1016 Fairway Ave. in South Lake Tahoe.

With a now-defunct board, Sare and Cheer co-founder Nat Sinclair have proposed creating a five-member “governor” panel. David Kelly, Wilma Thomas and Joanne Shope resigned on June 18 amid speculation that the board is liable for alleged misconduct by the state’s Attorney General. No charges have been filed at the state or county levels.

The new board would consist of representatives from different segments of the community, including local government, churches, service clubs and commercial businesses like Raley’s. The fifth seat would be occupied by Sinclair.

Sinclair and his wife, Bonita, started Christmas Cheer in 1979. People flocked to the area’s only food pantry in times of desperation. But in recent months, the organization has been tattooed with rampant claims of stealing and lacking direction.

The El Dorado Community Services District has received at least six complaints regarding Christmas Cheer this year. According to CSD program director Paula Lambdon, complaints about Christmas Cheer have been increasing since the end of April. To her knowledge, there have been other grievances filed with the department but on an infrequent basis.

“It used to be one every couple of months,” she said. “But it wasn’t like the volume we’ve been receiving lately.”

The complaints received range from paltry portions to rude treatment by Cheer volunteers. Also brought to light was the new system implemented by the organization whereby food is distributed based on an alphabetical list. Depending on the first letter of the last name, clients would have to visit the pantry on that given day. Critics say the policy doesn’t account for when a family is hungry or if the family has transportation to the pantry.

Liz Berg worked as a volunteer at Christmas Cheer for two weeks last December. A student at Sierra Nevada College, Berg donated her time to a nonprofit as a scholarship requirement. Working at the office, she saw volunteers take the choice items while people off the street were excluded from the “good stuff.”

“I felt guilty I couldn’t give this stuff to the clients,” she said. “What they (Christmas Cheer) pulled in wasn’t being passed out.”

Cheer volunteers were able to take food home because they donated their time and were on fixed incomes. Berg added she never accepted the offer of food because she didn’t need it. Because she was new to the organization, she didn’t ally herself with anyone in the short time frame, she said.

“I just wanted to come forward and tell what I saw,” Berg said. “What they need is someone in there with the right background to make it more organized and structured.”

The resounding response from people who have worked with the food bank, past and present, agree that the organization must not deviate from its mission any longer: to feed the poor and needy in the community.

“It’s counterproductive at this time to continue pointing fingers,” said Sare. “Let bygones be bygones and let’s help the people who are going hungry.”

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There are 13 items a nonprofit organization must comply with to obtain that status, whether it is a new or existing group. In order for Christmas Cheer to continue its operation it must start from scratch and change its name or abide by the following steps:

– choose corporate name

– prepare articles of incorporation (Christmas Cheer has filed papers in Nevada)

– create bylaws

– complete and file state tax exemption application

– do the same for federal tax exemption

– consolidate paperwork

– make copies for the public

– mail IRS letter to the Franchise Tax Board

– set up corporate records book

– have minutes of first board meeting

– place minutes and attachments in corporate records

– submit domestic corporation statement


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