Brentwood Regional Community Chest's twist on "It takes a village to raise a child" is "It takes a community to help a child," or in this case, around 2,000 kids.
Nearly 100 volunteers, adults and kids alike, gathered at Brentwood's vacant U.S. Print facility Monday night to sort and pack thousands of donated toys for the annual BRCC Christmas basket distribution that will take place Saturday. Despite the brief blackout at the facility, Christmas will be a lot brighter for 550 far East County families.
When lighting failed to turn on properly at the facility, organizers tried to light up the warehouse, only causing the lighting to completely shut down for a good five minutes before fully illuminating the warehouse again.
Despite the dark, volunteers didn't skip a beat as they whipped out cellphones and pocket-size flashlights to guide their way.
Ready to assist, community chest representative Jan Schults quickly moved toward the masses scanning her cellphone applications until she found The Joy of Light. Instantly, her phone turned into a flashlight and she beckoned to the crowd, "Do you need light?"
In the only area of the building that had light, toward the back, BRCC board member Lill Pierce could be seen fanning a stack full of 30 gift cards. Shaking her head in amazement, Pierce said, "This is all from one person ... people are so generous, it's so amazing."
The same sentiment echoed from the shadows, as parents watched their kids easily pick through the large bins of toys in the dark to place on an assembly line of age-specific toy tables.
As the lights came on, the room was still abuzz with laughter, smiles and the rustling of bags as volunteers continued to scurry across the warehouse like a colony of ants portaging toys.
"This is the most fun part for me -- the toys," Pierce said. "You feel like elves when you do the toys."
Pierce said the volunteers who participate in the Christmas basket program amaze her each year.
"There are people that come out that we never see the rest of the year."
She added that this year's volunteers came from all over far East County and included church groups, school leadership, Scouts, 4-H clubs, service organizations and just people who wanted to help make a difference.
What is even more amazing, she said, is that many of the recipients of the annual Christmas basket distribution come out to help as well.
Brentwood Rotary President John Fink said he was struck by that same feeling, "When I was standing here watching, I was in tears -- the difference this will make in the lives of children."
Just down the road, Friends of Oakley and its volunteers were running through the same type of scenario this week, minus the moment of darkness. With just days left before distribution, it was crunchtime for the group as it continued to sort and wrap toys for its list of nearly 900 children.
"Nothing stops you from doing what you want to do," said Pat Anderson, Friends of Oakley board member and a former Oakley councilwoman.
Anderson couldn't believe the commitment of the volunteers this year. "I signed just one community service paper, everyone else is here because they want to -- doesn't it make your heart feel good."
But she said the work is not done. While she expects they will finish wrapping all the gifts before the weekend, volunteers will still have lots to do on Saturday and Sunday.
"There is plenty to do -- sorting food, putting things into the family bags -- plenty of things to do," Anderson said.
Both BRCC and Friends of Oakley need volunteers this weekend to help pack food boxes and to distribute those boxes and toys to those families in need. BRCC needs volunteers to help pack boxes from 4-9 p.m. Friday and to help distribute boxes and toys on Saturday beginning at 7:30 a.m. at Brentwood Elementary, 200 Griffith Lane. Friends of Oakley will need volunteers to pack Christmas baskets from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday and again from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Sunday at Almond Grove Elementary, 5000 Amaryllis St.