By Peggy Kelly
Santa Paula Times
It was beginning to look a lot like Christmas early Tuesday morning when members of the Santa Paula Rotary Club and volunteers delivered 500 baskets filled with food for needy families and toys for girls and boys throughout the city.
The annual Rotary Club Christmas Basket Program is a year-round effort that involves the entire community to ensure that pre-qualified families are able to enjoy the holiday.
But the real push began Saturday when Rotarians and volunteers met at the Community Center AKA Christmas Basket Central to begin labeling and marking boxes.
“It seemed like everyone showed up at 8 a.m. so Maria Bombara and I put them to work,” said Christmas Basket Co-Chair Carlos Juarez.
“By about 11:30 a.m. or so we were almost done sorting cans, had sent some people out shopping for toys,” to make up for gift shortfalls that occurred in spite of generous individual donations and Toys for Tots.
“We went out and filled out what we needed, it was all those people that helped get it done that helped us to figure out what we needed for toys,” so others could be armed with shopping lists to make up for the shortfall.
Also shopping was the Santa Paula Firefighters Association that donated $1,000 to the Christmas Basket Program and swarmed Big 5 Sporting Goods for bargains in games and sports equipment that kids would love.
“Fire and some Rotarians hit Big 5 and some others went to Big Lots and Kmart,” where Rotarians were able to finish gift shopping made easier by discounts offered by the retailers.
Juarez said at the end of the day Rotarians and volunteers had made so much progress on basket filling that, “We left a note on the Community Center door,” noting that Sunday’s work party was cancelled, where to take last minute donations, “and that we were basically done until Tuesday.”
Christmas Eve morning “A lot of people showed up at 6 a.m. to load the trucks, then others stayed to help deliver the baskets,” via the fleet of 19 vehicles.
“We had plenty of people on the trucks,” where at each stop they were greeted with excitement and joy as well as surprise from family members that had not been told they would be having a Merry Christmas.
“There was only a handful or so of people that were not home,” and the baskets were taken to a fire station where the recipients could claim them or they would be delivered later.
By about 11 a.m. all the baskets were delivered: “We were done,” and Juarez said he was thankful all went well.
He noted that this was the first year that Rotarian Norm Wilkinson, who had routed the truck stops for 34 years, “except for 1990 when he went to Hawaii,” no longer was in charge of plotting deliveries.
But Wilkinson did carefully school Juarez, Co-Chair Jason Cole and Rotarian Mike Mobley in his transportation planning secrets.
Cole, said Juarez, “Was wonderful help, he’s new to Rotary but he has helped with the baskets for years and years,” working with his father Rotarian Guy Cole.
“And Mike Mobley helped us every step of the way...it was wonderful working with all the Rotarians on the Christmas Basket Committee as well as all the volunteers that work so hard to help their neighbors enjoy the holidays.”
Juarez made sure to measure the participation of volunteers by asking the groups that showed up to sort basket items, load trucks and make deliveries if they were repeat helpers.
“At least 30 hands would go up saying this was the first time and hopefully they’ll be back next year,” bringing family and friends.
People can continue to help year-round: “We had costs that extended beyond the delivery,” made a generous donation to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Clara Valley for their help in overseeing the application and screening process.
“Plus, we’re already getting ready for next year,” by accepting monetary donations that Juarez noted are tax deductible.
Monetary contributions may be given to any Santa Paula Rotary Club member or mailed to the Rotary Club at P.O. Box 809, Santa Paula, CA 93061. Please make all checks payable to Santa Paula Rotary Christmas Basket Fund. Visit the Rotary website at www.santapaularotary.org or send an email to email@example.com for more information, or speak with any Rotary Club of Santa Paula member.
The success of the annual Rotary Christmas Basket Program is dependent on the legendary generosity of the Santa Paula community. Students, churches, Scout troops, clubs, and mobile home parks have all contributed in the past showing their support to help our Santa Paulans in need each Christmas season.