The 2013 holiday season witnessed another robust outpouring of support for the Share the Spirit fundraising campaign, which received $161,751 in donations from 653 individuals and organizations for distribution to 32 nonprofit agencies in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

Though total donations were down from 2012 -- in part because the late Thanksgiving holiday shortened the fundraising season by one week -- average donations were up $15. Share the Spirit funds served 53,584 families and individuals, up 1,086 from 2012. There were three $25,000 donors -- the Lesher Foundation, the estate of Ebbe Hygum and a foundation that wishes to remain anonymous. The Twanda Foundation donated $10,000.

"It's heartwarming to see how many reach out to assist the needy and the vulnerable during the holidays," said Jo A.S. Loss, executive director of the Volunteer Center of the East Bay, which administers Share the Spirit.

The program is sponsored by the Bay Area News Group.

Among its beneficiaries this past holiday season was Oakland resident Alejandra Alvarado, a teen mom whose young family struggled to get by. The nonprofit Brighter Beginnings not only provided Alvarado's children -- a 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son -- with donated Christmas presents, it also has helped Alvarado get into college, where she is studying for a career in radiology. She also serves as an alumni leader for Brighter Beginnings, teaching sex education and pregnancy prevention at schools.

Donna Silva, a 63-year-old grandmother, has struggled since losing her job at Fremont's NUMMI plant, which closed in 2009. Not only has she received much-needed food staples from the Tri-City Volunteers food bank in Fremont, she also has volunteered at the agency that has given her a helping hand.

Lennie Dillard-Brown, a 62-year-old retired nurse who has custody of her 7-year-old grandson, Anthony, brings the youngster and his two young cousins several days a week to the Family Enhancement Collaborative, more popularly known as "the Kinship center," in Richmond. The center provides academic, and play activities for the children, and much needed social support for Dillard-Brown and other caregivers to help keep families together.

The Volunteer Center receives thank you notes from nonprofits and individual beneficiaries alike. One this year read:

"Thank you so very much for the generous gifts you gave our whole family. We could not have gotten anything for Christmas, and you made it all possible to have such a special day."

Another read:

"Thank you so much for the gifts. We have worked very hard to change our lives and these are the great blessings. God bless you and your family."

The Volunteer Center also heard from nonprofits. Pleasant Hill-based VESTIA, Inc., which provides volunteer emergency services, was thankful "for the wonderful $6,000 grant, which helped serve close to 400 people this holiday season."

Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him at Twitter.com/garyscribe.

To Help or donate
Visit the Volunteer Center of the East Bay at volunteereastbay.org, or call 925-472-5760.