Correspondent

TRACY -- Staff at the Brighter Christmas charity hope the public will help fulfill the food and toy needs of 800 families this year.

Surprisingly, this number is down from last year's totals when this group helped 890 families with nearly 2,000 kids receive new toys and banana boxes full of food for the holiday. Along with a decline in families, there is also a decrease in donations received, down by about a third this year. Yet, organizers within the group are hopeful the community will come through with the needed donations in time for Christmas.

"Our donations have significantly dropped off this year," explained Brighter Christmas President Steve Abercrombie. "We have donation barrels located all over town, including the local schools and firehouses, where people can drop off canned food or new toy donations. We are also hoping our Angel Tree, located at West Valley Mall, will help bring in the needed toy donations for the kids. Every year we see the need in the community, this year is no different."

The Brighter Christmas "Angel Tree" has been a holiday fixture at the local mall since its opening. Attached to the tree are paper ornaments that read "boy" or "girl" and have a specific age group, such as 0-1 year old. The public is encouraged to take an ornament and purchase a new toy for that child.


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Jose Balaaldia, visiting from King Cove, Alaska, made his first toy donation after seeing the Angel Tree and inquiring about it. "I saw the tree here and asked about it," said Balaaldia. "I have family that live in the area, and I am on vacation now visiting them. I thought this was a great thing for the local area."

Brighter Christmas originally started 33 years ago, with only a handful of volunteers, as a way to help out one local family in need. Today, the organization has grown to more than 200 volunteers and helps hundreds of families and thousands of children have food and toys for Christmas.

"This is very special for me," explained Brighter Christmas founder Gene Birk. "My whole family has helped with this since it started, and last year I had three of my great-grandchildren helping. I get cards every year from the families we have helped, and they say that if it had not been for Brighter Christmas their kids would not have had any toys that year. Whenever I need a pick-me-up, I read those cards. Brighter Christmas has made a difference in so many people's lives." For a complete list of scheduled events, through the Brighter Christmas organization, please visit www.tracybrighterchristmas.com. Or for the group's message line, call 209-833-3309.

Reach correspondent Anne Marie Fuller at annemarietv@juno.com.