A week ago, the Short-Term Emergency Aid Committee lacked donors to give holiday help for 77 families.
“We just about died,” said executive director Susan Simon.
Julie Cross of the Davis Food Co-op and Kim Eichorn of Lyon Real Estate sent out email blasts. Messages were posted on Facebook. The Enterprise published a news brief.
Within four days, donors adopted every family.
“Huge sigh of relief,” said Pam Baird, chair of STEAC’s holiday adopt-a-family program, who blamed the initial dearth of donors on the shorter span between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year.
About 60 or 70 people waited in near-freezing temperatures before 8 a.m. on Saturday, when the first scheduled pickup of gifts from the rows of boxes inside the First Baptist Church sanctuary.
“People wouldn’t come out and do something uncomfortable unless they really count on it,” said STEAC president Cass Sylvia.
Altogether, 399 Davis families — about 1,400 people — made up the list to receive gifts and food. All were homeless or had an income at or below the federal poverty threshold: $23,350 for a family of four.
Demand remained as great this year as at the height of the recession.
“It’s been pretty rough for us,” said 32-year-old Veronica Garcia, who stood waiting with her boyfriend, Marcus Hendrix, 34.
Garcia slipped and fell down rain-slick steps in 2009. She damaged three discs in her back, then subsequently injured a knee.
Then, about a year ago, pain from a back injury Hendrix suffered in a car accident worsened. He struggled to bend or lift things at the grocery store where the couple met as employees.
After surgery, Garcia said she was laid up in bed, frustrated and depressed, unable to walk to the bathroom alone or take a shower without help.
Physical therapy has her up and moving again. Hendrix said his back feels better on some days than others, but he hopes to resume working next month.
For now, both are on disability. Days of mall shopping and nights of restaurant dinners ended long ago. What money they have goes to bills, little else.
They have two children waiting at home in their two-bedroom Davis apartment. Fifteen-year-old Ashley has fingers crossed for makeup or a gift card this Christmas. Three-year-old Marquis loves toy cars.
“It’s not hard to please them,” Hendrix said. “If we say, ‘You’re not getting a lot,’ they understand. But we want to give them a lot.”
Some in line sipped coffee or ate baked goods laid out by church members. Santa Claus gave out hugs and candy canes.
Many left with coats from an annual coat drive marshaled by Willett Elementary School and Lyon Real Estate and with donated children’s books.
Jeff Yee, 51, a Woodland doctor who lives in Davis, rolled out a stack of boxes for Hendrix and Garcia. Green and red stockings poked out of the top.
Yee’s wife, Elaine, a nurse, lent a hand inside the big room of donated coats. They were among about 50 volunteers needed to stockpile donated gifts, then make distribution run smoothly.
“I like being able to help people directly, to have contact with them,” Jeff Yee said. “It’s sort of what I do in my work. This is just an extension of giving to people, in a different way, without having to worry about the insurance hassles and everything else. This is a lot nicer.”
STEAC provides year-round help to about 7,000 people annually through a variety of programs, including cash assistance and distribution of donated food and clothing. For more information, see www.steac.org.
— Reach Cory Golden at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8046. Follow him on Twitter at @cory_golden