As the year comes to a close, I reflect on how privileged I am to come across some incredibly interesting folks. It is an honor to shine the spotlight on our community members, and each year I am thankful for this opportunity.

I am also grateful for things of which I sometimes take for granted, such as a warm meal, coats when the temperature dips and a roof over my head. I recently tweeted a quote from Charles Dickens, "No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another." How true this is, as I am reminded each holiday season and throughout the year of local folks who give of their time and resources in order to help those less fortunate.

It used to be a novel idea when a book club or bunco group would collect for various philanthropies when they congregated. However, I am pleased to report that it seems more the norm now to turn a birthday party, holiday gathering or book club meeting into an opportunity to give back. Alamo resident Kathleen Ralyea informed her bunco group that she was assisting fellow Alamonian Sharon Burke in her efforts to gather toys for VESTIA. I learned that the families receiving the donated toys are referred to this program by social workers and will now have a little bit brighter holiday thanks to the generosity of folks.

County Supervisor Candace Andersen offered her Danville office as a drop-off center for the donations. Alamo resident Hillary Darst conducted a One Warm Coat drive and asked friends and neighbors to drop coats off on her front porch recently. St. Isidore's eighth-grade class partnered with Alamo Safeway to help fill bags for the Food Banks of Contra Costa and Solano Counties. I am told that they were able to gather 370 bags to donate. I learned that in lieu of birthday gifts from a group of friends, one woman asked for donations to SHELTER inc. Alamo residents Carol Hyman and Julie Davis, along with a group of volunteers, spent many hours organizing and collecting for a clothing drive, which will help families in the SHELTER program.

I heard about an anonymous male sophomore student at San Ramon Valley High School, who gathered a group of volunteers to surprise the student body upon returning back to school Dec. 2. They managed to place thousands of small red pins with the message, "You are loved" on every locker and throughout the campus. As Denise Navarra told me of this sweet gesture,"Hopefully it is a reminder that we are all loved and have the chance to live that out toward one another," she said.

Alamo resident Rhonda Raphel, whose children have now grown, for many years collected toys for Love-A-Child Ministry when her kids were younger. Rhonda told me she is involved in a group of women called TENS -- Thriving Empty Nesters, who meet every Friday from 9 to 11:30 a.m. at Community Presbyterian Church in Danville.

"For years I was involved in the toy drive for Love-A-Child Ministries. Now I am at the other end of the spectrum, as an empty nester," she said. For more information, contact Barb Miller at or Donna Hill at or visit the website at I know there are countless of other volunteers such as these women I've mentioned in my column, and I'd love to hear from you!

As Charles Dickens wrote in "A Christmas Carol," -- "God bless us everyone!"

Contact Caterina Mellinger at