Patricia Hirabara, a fixture in the Berkeley Recreation Department for almost 40 years and familiar face as coordinating director at Live Oak Park since 1986, died Dec. 4, a few months before her planned retirement.

Hirabara was a native and lifelong resident of Albany, where she graduated from Albany High School before earning a recreation degree at San Francisco State University and starting a career with Berkeley recreation programs.

She was a popular coordinating director for city recreation centers starting in 1982 at Willard Park and then at Live Oak.

"She had so much energy. I had to tell her to go home every day for 33 years," said youth recreation leader Marvin Buckley. "She was a very caring person, always supportive if someone needed to talk. She always treated her staff with respect,"

Patrons of the Live Oak center described her as "always helpful and accommodating," "a truly gracious person," and "an important part of raising my children."

Susan Schwartz, who lives near the park, recalled Hirabara going out of her way to write letters of recommendation for teenagers seeking a first job.

Hirabara was known as hands-on and involved, rather than someone who would administrate from an office.

Her death also leaves a personal void. Hirabara, who never married, was the primary caregiver for her disabled brother and sister.

No memorial has yet been scheduled.

DRAMA TEACHER REMEMBERED: Students and friends of retired El Cerrito High School drama teacher Roger Anderson, who died recently in Oregon, are planning gatherings in his memory on Dec. 22 and Dec. 23 at the Club Mallard in Albany.

Anderson became the school's drama teacher and director in 1991 and made a cameo appearance in the final production at the ECHS Little Theater in 2005, shortly before the original campus buildings were demolished.

The well-respected educator, who also taught English, was back the following year helping students keep the drama program alive in a portable building on the temporary campus.

WEST COUNTY NOTES: The newly expanded Jenny K. Gift Boutique at 6927 Stockton Ave. in El Cerrito is holding its annual book drive for the West County Reads! program.

Santa Claus will be at the store from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 15 and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 22 to collect new and gently used children's books for the literacy program, which distributes them to young people in West Contra Costa.

Parents looking for a calm alternative for their children to visit Santa can bring a camera to take pictures.

The book drive will continue all month at the boutique. Details: www.jennyk.com.

  • Donations to the annual toy drive held by the Richmond and El Cerrito fire departments are slow this year and Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus has issued an appeal for help.

    "We don't have enough donations this year to purchase the volume of toys and food we need for all the families who have asked to participate in this year's giveaway," he writes. "Maybe it's the bad economy; maybe it's the greater need, but whatever the case, we are struggling to fund the food and toys we've got to have to successfully pull off this year's event."

    Donations can be made at www.toyprogram.org, or checks made out to the Richmond-El Cerrito Holiday Toy Program can be mailed to 3060 El Cerrito Plaza, Suite 360, El Cerrito, CA 94530.

    Sponsors are also needed. Call 510-774-5133 for details.

  • Donations for the toy drive being held by the foundation of El Cerrito High grad and NBA player Drew Gooden, meanwhile, can be dropped off at the school from noon to 6 p.m. Dec. 15 during the DG Invitational Showcase for elite high school basketball teams from Northern and Southern California. The drive needs toys and gift-wrapping materials and will have barrels in the gymnasium at ECHS, 540 Ashbury Ave.

  • Wilson & Kratzer Mortuaries is accepting food donations at its Civic Center Chapel at 455 24th St. in Richmond and its Chapel of the Mission Bells, 13644 San Pablo Ave. in San Pablo.

    Donation barrels have been placed at each location and collected items will go to the Bay Area Rescue Mission, which provided more than 1.5 million meals to the area's most needy last year.

    Details: 510-232-4383

  • There's still time to donate to the fifth annual coat drive being held by the after school program at the George Miller Center at 2801 Robert Miller Drive in Richmond. Donations go to the Bay Area Rescue Mission. For details on how to help, contact Claudia Lam at clam@arcofcc.org or 510-374-3981.

  • West Coast Chess Alliance invites chess players to come to Catahoula Coffee Company, 12472 San Pablo Ave. in Richmond, for games from 5:30 to 8 p.m. each Thursday. (Please bring your own board and clock.) Details: 510-235-0525.

    Contact Chris Treadway at 510-262-2784 or ctreadway@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/christreadway.