14 Dec 18
The Ukiah Daily Journal
Many of the toys in the warehouse have been donated by way of the forty barrels that the Christmas Effort has had spread throughout town since Thanksgiving. (Chris Pugh — Ukiah Daily Journal)
The Ukiah Valley Christmas Effort was started in 1948 by a group of schoolteachers who wanted to provide gifts to the children who came back from Christmas break, unable to participate in conversations concerning what presents had been received during Christmastime. Shirley Grover, who has since passed away, was able to turn it into a nonprofit when she used to organize the project.
Sheryl Graves, who is the current president of the Christmas Effort and has been since 2014, took over following Grover’s death and has happily seen the outreach grow in the past few years.
In 2017, the Christmas Effort committed to serving 400 families around the community and ended up also reaching out to fire victim families who had been affected by the October fires. This year, they were able to make a commitment to 425 families. Graves adds, “Each year we try to serve a few more families, and now we’re almost at our capacity.”
The finite amount of time that the Christmas Effort volunteers have to put together presents for the 1,300 kids they serve makes it difficult for them to reach more families than they already do. Preparation for the Christmas Effort begins every year in early December when they find a building to use as a warehouse and wrapping center for all the gifts.
The city of Ukiah Electric Department has generously donated the month-long use of the building that the Christmas Effort is currently occupying at 1350 Hastings Road, off of Talmage Road in Ukiah. Inside what they’re calling “Santa’s Workshop,” tables loaned to the Christmas Effort by the Redwood Valley-Calpella Fire Department are dispersed around the room, accommodating the early collection of toys for the children.
The Christmas Effort has always tried to provide kids with nice quality gifts and asks the community to keep that in mind as they consider donating items. (Chris Pugh — Ukiah Daily Journal)
Many of the toys in the warehouse have been donated by way of the 40 barrels that the Christmas Effort has had spread throughout town since Thanksgiving. This year, the Christmas Effort is introducing the community to a new, signature barrel design. Graves explains, “Before, our barrels would be covered in different colored wrapping paper or were designed somewhat similar to that. We’re trying to market ourselves so that when people put something in our barrel, they can know that the donations are going straight to us.”
Santa was the inspiration for the design, so the barrels are accordingly decorated. The barrels have been placed in retail stores, some food eateries, and markets, as well as at a few larger businesses where employees and visitors are encouraged to donate.
Graves mentions that this year, another source of donations has been Christmas parties, thrown by clubs or by businesses for their employees. Instead of participating in a traditional White Elephant gift exchange, Graves excitedly shares that many have started to suggest bringing a toy for donation to the Christmas Effort. “Holiday parties are really aiding donations,” she says.
The best toys for community members to donate for kids this December include LOL Surprise Dolls and Fingerlings for young girls – along with the usual Barbies and suitable clothes – as well as Legos and Nerf guns for the boys. They are short on remote control toys such as cars, planes and motorcycles. Sports equipment and balls are also good gifts for all ages.
First Baptist Church, after having successfully completed a board game drive for the Christmas Effort last year, is again committing to provide board games for every family. One of the goals of the Christmas Effort is to bring families together, and including a board game with each gift has become a successful way to do so.
Pedal It Forward collected and refurbished over 80 bikes for the Christmas Effort, and the CHP Squad Club also supplied numerous bikes.
For all the gifts given, it’s important to note that the Christmas Effort’s desire is for the children to be able to use and play with their toys once they receive them. For that reason, batteries are also needed, so that they can be included with any battery operated toys.
However, the area of highest need for the Christmas Effort is gifts for teenagers. “A lot of people think that they’re donating for young kids, but our parameters are from age birth through 18 years old. People don’t generally think about that age group, so we always struggle with teen donations,” comments Graves. Technology is a popular need, involving items such as phone chargers, headphones and USB drives. Gift cards for local businesses and restaurants or online stores make great teen gifts as well.
Graves mentions that the Christmas Effort has always strived to provide kids with nice quality gifts and asks the community to keep that in mind as they consider donating items.
A volunteer sorts through a fresh batch of donated toys at the warehouse on Hastings Avenue in Ukiah. (Chris Pugh — Ukiah Daily Journal)
A few community supporters of the Christmas Effort – such as Redwood Credit Union, Community First Credit Union, and the city of Ukiah – are sporting Christmas trees that have ornaments available for people to take and “adopt a family.” Whoever wants to adopt a family can contact the Christmas Effort and will be asked a few questions about who they would like to adopt before they are matched up with a family.
Shopping trips are then in store for those adopting a family, and having been told the wishes and age of the adopted child, perfect gifts can be picked out and brought to the Christmas Effort warehouse to then be put together and delivered to the lucky children on Christmas Eve.
Volunteering at the warehouse during the Christmas Effort’s open hours is also an important way to aid in their time of need. It is entirely a drop-in based volunteer effort and Graves says it’s really a “come on down and give what you can with the time you have” kind of collaboration with the community. Monday through Thursday, from 5 to 8 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., are their current hours. For these first few weeks of December, their main task has been to organize and arrange the space, but present wrapping begins this Saturday in order to get ready for Delivery Day.
Christmas Eve morning, at 8 a.m., is when the magic happens. “You bring yourself, your car, and your friends or family to our warehouse and get in a line with all the other cars. It’s truly a kickoff to Christmas, and so many people come to help us deliver and give back to their community,” describes Graves. Any community members who wish to dedicate their Christmas Eve morning to participating in Delivery Day are welcome. Each car will be given a food box, gifts for the children, and an address to find the family in need.
Inside the food box are all the ingredients needed for a Christmas dinner, purchased by the Christmas Effort to ensure that every box has the same base, as well as extra canned goods donated by community members.
Graves concludes, “One of the things that really fills my heart up is that every year, the Christmas Effort is growing. More people are figuring out ways that they can help, and everybody adds their small part to create this amazing thing that all comes together on Christmas Eve morning. Also, there’s no piece of the community that isn’t touched by this. Either they are donating or volunteering or being served, and I love that.”
Monetary donations can be mailed to the Ukiah Valley Christmas Effort at P.O. Box 801, Ukiah, CA, 95482. For more information, call (707)-272-9627 or refer to the Ukiah Valley Christmas Effort Facebook page for more details.