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Valley Churches United Mission Christmas Valley Christmas Project volunteers hand out bags filled with Christmas gifts to families in need in Ben Lomond on Sunday. (Kevin Johnson/Sentinel)

BEN LOMOND -- United was the theme on an overcast, wet Sunday at Valley Churches United Missions, as volunteers handed out brightly wrapped packages and parents waited in a long line -- all to make sure children have gifts to open on Christmas Day.

In the 31st year of spreading Christmas cheer, Valley Churches gave away children's gifts, frozen turkey and baking ingredients to 508 families, said Linda Lovelace, operations director of the agency.

There are so many people needing help that seniors and individuals/couples came on separate days for their goodies, Lovelace said. They served close to 400 seniors and about 320 singles and couples, she said.

In a new procedure this year, people waited in line to get their gifts and food and then pulled their cars up to a cordoned-off lane in front of Valley Churches to load up, she said.

"It's working beautifully," Lovelace said. "It's fun; everyone gets to see everyone."

She said every child writes a Santa letter listing things they would like and the agency works with the community, including businesses, to fulfill those wish lists. At least 30 children got bikes this year, she said.

All recipients are pre-screened, she said.

"Some just need a little boost through the holidays; that's why we have so many," she said. "It's wonderful that we have such generous donors in the community. And we really do check lists more than twice; to make sure all the kids are treated fairly. "


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Safeway donates to the pantry seven days a week, she said. Other large donors include the San Jose Fire Department and the Family Giving Tree in Milpitas.

Saturday, one woman came by and donated $200 she had accumulated in "lottery scratchers," Lovelace said.

"She had been a client," she said. "We see a lot of that. People come back and say, 'You helped me and I'm OK this year, so here's something.' That's what makes it go 'round."

Sunday, a line began forming at 8 a.m. for the 10 a.m. start of the gift giving, Lovelace said.

Alejandro Corona, 13, of Ben Lomond was one of several volunteers helping cart the donations to waiting cars. Corona said he would get a golden emblem on his certificate of graduation from San Lorenzo Valley Middle School if he logs 30 community service hours during his middle school career.

As for the volunteer gig at hand, he said he liked it.

"Well, it seems to be an elaborate system, and yeah, it's really fun, that's what I think," he said. "Just seeing the faces and helping out is fun."

Others who had a hand in the festivities included Larry and Carolyn Werner, who each year bring trays of fresh-baked cookies to hand out to those in line, Lovelace said.

The families seemed grateful for the help.

Heather Cadell of Felton was picking up gifts for her four children. Cadell said she volunteers at Valley Churches and needed a little extra help this year.

"I think it's just wonderful that people are able to help others," Cadell said. "I'm so grateful."

Kim West of Boulder Creek said they do a wonderful job.

"They are able to give away an amazing amount of gifts," West said. "And it's all for the kids."

She was with her son's partner, Alicia Smith, who was picking up packages for their three young children.

Transformers, Scooby-Doo and Sponge Bob played starring roles on their wish lists, Smith said.

"It's so helpful to get the gifts they want," said Smith, a stay-at-home mom.

Another woman standing nearby in line, Janice Kern, said she recently became homeless for the first time, after moving back to the area from South Carolina when her father became seriously ill.

Kern, 53, was there for gifts for her two young grandchildren.

Kern, who was raised in Scotts Valley, said all but one of her adult children have found jobs, but that her partner, John Wells, is still looking for work as a welder or mechanic.

She said high rental deposits, along with her two beagles, have made it hard to find a place to live, so they have been living in their car and in motels. They have a Section 8 housing voucher, but no takers, she said.

"It's not for lack of trying," she said. "But they have been super to nice to us here. We came for food and they told us to come back today. Now we just have faith we'll find something."

Lovelace said the agency is spread thin right now, and that she hopes donations come in through the end of the year.

Valley Churches United's boutique and administrative offices will be open seven days a week through the holidays. They are at 9400 Highway 9, at Glen Arbor, in downtown Ben Lomond. The pantry is closed until January. Reach them at 831-336-8258.

Follow Sentinel reporter Cathy Kelly on Twitter at Twitter.com/cathykelly9