Community puts magic in Christmas | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Community puts magic in Christmas

Jo Rafferty, Tribune staff writer

This year more than any other, hundreds of boys and girls will light up at Christmas because of the presents and food they will receive from South Shore charitable organizations.

Parents, too, might not have to go without. Single parents, or those who find themselves without jobs, will have Christmas dinners on their tables.

Christmas Cheer, one of the area’s biggest year-round charitable organizations, got help this year from more than 30 merchants who allowed donations barrels in their businesses.

Joanne Shope of Christmas Cheer counted almost 2,000 people on Sunday, including more than 700 children, who will receive gifts and dinner baskets today and Tuesday from the organization.

“That’s bigger than last year when we had a little over 525 kids and well over 1,200 people altogether,” Shope said.

The nonprofit has undergone a feast and famine in terms of donations meeting the need.

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“I think we’re going to make it,” she said Sunday. “We used to say we were overwhelmed if we had 400 people we had to feed. But the community response has been overwhelming. In 20 years, I’ve never seen numbers like these.”

On Friday, South Lake Tahoe radio stations KRLT 93.9 FM and KOWL 1490 AM set up a booth in front of Raley’s at the “Y,” broadcasting live from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. to publicize the needs of Christmas Cheer.

Eight radio station employees volunteered their time and Raley’s, besides providing a space for the booth, matched every $5 donation with approximately $10 in food.

“Christmas Cheer came to us and said, ‘Our cupboards are bare.’ Doing this just seemed to be the right thing. I believe now we’ll make this an annual event,” said Dennis Heinz, who just took over as general manager of the radio stations.

By 5 p.m. the radio stations had brought in an estimated $2,000 at the booth in front of Raley’s, plus $300 to $400 in groceries. This didn’t include donations brought in by listeners to other locations.

Friday was the last day to drop off non-perishable food, household items, new and used clothing and toys for Christmas. However, items are put to use throughout the year, Shope said. The organization provides an emergency food pantry, distributes commodities monthly, perishable food daily, non-perishable food three days a week and has brown bags available for seniors.

To receive help from Christmas Cheer families first must be referred from a social service agency.

The drop-off location is at 2085 Eloise Ave. Items should be left only during business hours, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday. To reach Christmas Cheer, call (530) 542-4934.

The Food Bank in Placerville plans to make a run to Christmas Cheer and the Family Resource Center on Tuesday. Talk of having a satellite food bank in South Lake Tahoe to handle shortages is still circulating.

Shope said a food bank here would make the distribution of goods more convenient.

Santa’s Magic Ride

Santa’s Magic Ride, an organization run by six area women, has in past years provided gifts for up to 650 children. This year it’s sticking to a more manageable amount – about 250.

Formed in 1992, Santa’s Magic Ride gets referrals of children from Lake Tahoe Unified School District, as well as some kids in Head Start. The children, and some parents, make a wish list and individuals and businesses then adopt a family or a child.

“We wanted kids to know this can happen for them – having a great Christmas,” said Wendy David, one of the women who heads up the program. Lake Tahoe Community College provides Santa’s Magic Ride with its theater to use as an office.

David stressed that although they’re no longer taking Christmas donations, the organization accepts cash donations throughout the year to help families in crisis.

Family Resource Center

At the South Lake Tahoe Family Resource Center, about 50 families were adopted this season. Delicia Spees, executive director, said she expects more to come in before Christmas.

With cash and product donations, the center purchases items like detergent, dish soap, toiletries and T-shirts.

“Most low-income families are on food stamps. They can’t buy things like that,” said Spees, adding that the center also hands out Christmas dinner baskets.

Among other things, the center has an annual coat giveaway in collaboration with LTCC. It has an after-school computer lab for low-income children. This month there was a Latino family Christmas party and in January a party will be given for the women’s support group.

Generous donations have come from Santa’s Magic Ride, Spees said. Donations are still being accepted for Christmas. Call (530) 542-0740.

Women’s Center

South Lake Tahoe Women’s Center has had an adopt-a-family program for the past two years, and is giving gifts to more than 60 families this year – double the number of last year. The center primarily serves victims of domestic violence.

Gifts, a holiday party and Christmas trees were provided by donations from organizations, businesses and private parties too numerous to mention, said operations manager Leanne Wagoner.

“One of our recipients recently told me, ‘I’ve never been so spoiled in my entire life,'” Wagoner said. “I can’t express how generous of a community we have.”

– Staff writer Susan Wood contributed to this story.