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Sonoma program offers the gift of a happy holiday

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“We’re not solving world problems, but we’d just like to remind people in the community that we care,” says Constance Grizzell, program director of the Sonoma Valley Holiday Gifting Program.

Since its founding by Grizzell in 2013, the nonprofit has been providing holiday-season gifts to families in need throughout the Sonoma community, from Schellville to Kenwood. The program matches donors to families and individuals, with a suggested budget of $100 per recipient.

“Everything is new in the program except for gently used bikes,” Grizzell says. “We have approximately 200 families this year and an additional 450 individuals who are benefactors of the program.”

The program receives recipient referrals from the Sonoma Valley Unified School District. The referred families are then placed with a donor. The names of the families are kept confidential to protect their privacy. Rather than their names, donors receive a bit of information about the family, their interests and their needs. If the family’s needs extend beyond the functions of the program, they are then referred to other nonprofits that can help them, or are assisted through community outreach. An example of that, Grizzell said, was when a single mother of four received much-needed bunk beds for her kids.

Regardless of what their needs and wishes are, the program wants all of its recipients to be part of the season of giving.

“We’re trying to give them a little bit of hope, a little bit of joy to alleviate tough times,” Grizzell says. “We have several donors who have been doing it for years, and it’s tradition now.”

One integral aspect of the program is its emphasis on one-to-one giving. Grizzell says, “It’s not just writing a check – it’s helping an individual or a family.”

“There’s always this sense that people who are in poverty want to take advantage, and we find that is not the case at all,” Grizzell says.

She recalls several stories of kindness and gratitude from program participants. One woman, who is part of the program’s senior outreach component, greeted Grizzell with cookies, coffee and cider when gifts were delivered to her home. Parents were moved to tears when their children opened new toys. One woman told Grizzell that being part of the program gave her family “a sense of hope and a light at the end of the tunnel.” Now, this woman has paid it forward by having her employer adopt several families and also by adopting a family of her own.

This year, the program has struggled to find enough donors for the registered families.

“People have had their minds on other things, with the bad skies we had (from the fires). Holidays were just not a high priority for a lot of people,” Grizzell says. “We’re in urgent need of donors.”

Kim Belchamber, administrative coordinator for the program, adds that, “Getting the families adopted is the most difficult part, because the average family is a family of five.”

Those who want to get involved can go to the program’s website, svholiday.org, where there is the option to adopt a family and shop for that family, shop for a family who has already been adopted, or make a monetary donation.

The program is also looking for weekend helpers for their space in the Sonoma Marketplace and for volunteers to hand out flyers and help find potential donors.

On Dec. 9 and 10, there will be gift wrapping session at the program’s second space at 18812 Highway 12. On Dec. 10 and 11, there will be distribution training for volunteers who want to help distribute gifts.

On Dec. 12, the program will be putting on a community dinner, which is open to the public and primarily serves Sonoma’s homeless population.

On Dec. 7, 8 and 9, the program’s Winter Wonderland with Santa will be open to the public. Volunteers recently decorated the space for Christmas, with toys, a tree, and a sleigh for Santa. The space is located in the Sonoma Marketplace shopping center at 201 W. Napa St.

From Dec. 14 to 17, the families will receive their gifts from donors. Kids will be dropped off at the Winter Wonderland to see Santa and do holiday crafts while their parents pick up gifts that donors have purchased.

“It’s kind of the local responsibility,” Belchamber says. “Just put us on your holiday gift list, from your family or from your business. It’s so easy. It shouldn’t be such a burden to people.”

For a full schedule of events or to get more information about the Sonoma Valley Holiday Gifting Program, visit svholiday.org or call 931-4114.