Volunteers, gifts, money still needed for ‘Christmas for Everyone’

MARTINEZ, Calif. – An annual heartwarming event has a new place and some special requests for help this year. But Christmas for Everyone, the Christmas Day dinner and gift distribution party, is returning to welcome all guests for its 34th annual celebration.

Founder and Director Mary Perez said she is delighted her party will take place in the Light of Grace Korean Presbyterian Church, 68 Morello Ave. The building previously was a Baptist church with private school.

And for years, Perez hoped one day the celebration could move to that site.

“It’s close to my home,” she said. The site has parking, two portable buildings the charity is using for storage and other amenities it needs to pull off a party for 1,500 or more of the area’s homeless, economically disadvantaged, elderly or lonely people.

Formerly a Baptist church that also operated a school, the campus was bought by the Korean Presbyterian Church in summer, Perez said. “We’re grateful they took us in,” she said.

The improved economy means Perez and her team of volunteers aren’t expecting the 3,000 people they fed just a few years ago. Still, it’s a challenge to make sure the 1,500 or so expected guests will have presents to take home after the Christmas Day meal.

The challenge is greater this year, she said.

Donors have the devastating back-to-back wildfires on their mind, and many are contributing to causes that benefit those victims.

While that’s understandable, Perez said, it means the local charity is far behind in collecting donations.

“We need money and new presents. We’re short on both,” she said.

In particular, she needs gifts for teenagers.

“The teenagers are always the ones left out. It’s the little kids who are so cute. But if you are a teenager and you go back to school and get asked, ‘What did you get for Christmas,’ and you say, ‘Nothing,’ how sad that is that no one cared,” she said.

Some may think teenagers want expensive electronics, but Perez said she heard from one teenager who is asking for a special type of shampoo the older child needs because of health.

“They didn’t ask for an iPad or iPhone – they asked for shampoo,” she said.

The charity also needs presents for the younger children, parents and older residents, she said. Money is always welcome, Perez said.

So far, Christmas for Everyone has managed to provide a present to each of those who attended the party, although the founder remembers one year when the last guest to leave, a woman, was given the last available present, which fortunately was a woman’s gift.

Christmas for Everyone also serves as the Christmas Day Meals on Wheels. Those unable to leave their homes on Christmas Day may request a meal deliver. They’ll get a present, too, Perez said.

Besides presents for guests, physical help is needed to make sure the church is ready for guests, she said.

“We are still needing some volunteers for the outside,” she said. “We have purchased our food, because we know what we need. So we get that in early.”

Christmas for Everyone also needs the help of an electrician to fix an electrical box at no charge. Barbers and hairdressers also are needed to give dry haircuts during the party. Those who can contribute those services can get a tax-deductible receipt, Perez assured.

They already have had some donated labor, she said. “Henderson and Sons Painting fixed a portable (building) because it was in bad shape.”

Area entertainers will be performing for diners during the party, and for Christmas dinner, they’ll be served portions of whole turkeys. “And we have amazing ham,” she said.

Sides include yams, mashed potatoes, gravy and fruit salad. Son Robert Lott, of Wilma Lott’s catering, is the chef preparing the food for the dinner, she said.

Perez said Christmas for Everyone began as a daydream, one she had about providing a happy time to the working poor, those in Hospice care, to homeless people and those who may have no family or friends nearby with whom to celebrate the holidays.

She began contacting organizations and companies she hoped would become sponsors and contributors.

As she worked to bring that daydream to life, she realized one phrase kept being repeated, “Christmas for everyone.” The phrase finally became the event’s name. Perez means it, too. Anyone who has no one else with whom to celebrate the holiday is invited to join the party.

After three decades and more of organizing the event, Perez and her team of volunteers have developed some heartfelt memories of Christmases past, and have heard memories that belong to others.

“We were moving from our storage to the church last week, and there was a young man who works for the moving company that has been moving us for 24 years at least,” Perez said. “He said, ‘Thank you.’ I said, ‘What for?’”

The young man answered, “You gave me Christmas when I was a young boy. My father had become unemployed. We would not have had Christmas. But someone told us about you, and you provided Christmas for us.”

Some of the volunteers have similar stories, saying that when their children were young, someone told them about the event. “We gave them Christmas every year since,” Perez said. But now, as volunteers, they are giving rather than receiving.

Others want to give back directly to the woman who created Christmas for Everyone.

“Last year, this woman was in line, and she said, ‘Mary, come here.’ She handed me a scarf she had knitted. ‘I made this for you. I am so grateful you helped me have Christmas.’”

Perez has a card in her desk from a disabled low-income woman and her daughter who thought they would not have any reason to celebrate. “I hurt so badly at Christmas time, I was crying,” she wrote Perez. She needed food and gifts, specifically a comforter and blankets, and received them.

“They had nothing. They just asked for basics – a pillow and blanket,” Perez said.

Then there’s a photograph Barbara Kapsalis gave Perez. It’s of a homeless man at the party who told Perez he wanted to give her something. He handed her a few coins – two pennies, a nickel and a dime. All the money he had.

“He gave me everything,” Perez said. “I said that’s the ‘widow’s mite’” That phrase comes from a New Testament Bible story in which Jesus praises a poor widow’s small coin donation above bags of gold from rich men, “because she gave all she had.”

There will be stories coming from this year’s party, too, Perez suspects. “It’s different every year.”

Those who want to help Perez and her team of volunteers can drop off money and gifts at 1 p.m. today at Light of Grace Korean Presbyterian Church, 68 Morello Ave. Other hours when donations can be delivered are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. Gifts will be accepted through Dec. 20.

Among the gifts needed are gloves and hats, new or almost new double, queen or king-sized blankets, new or gently used clothing, new unwrapped gifts for people of all ages, sleeping bags, rain ponchos and umbrellas, and wide, long lap robes.

Checks can be mailed to Christmas for Everyone, 391 Taylor Boulevard No. 140, Pleasant Hill, Calif., 94523.

Volunteers are needed to prepare the site up through the Christmas Day celebration then again Dec. 27 to move items out of the church and to clean up.

Those interested may visit the charity’s website, www.christmasforeveryone.com for volunteer registration, donation information and to request help. Those needing help may call 925-228-2233 or email cfe_christmas@comcast.net.

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