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Lots of volunteers with The Friends of Oakley, a nonprofit group in Oakley, wear Santa hats while handing out Christmas baskets for members of the community at O'Hara Park Middle School in Oakley, Calif., on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2009. One hundred and ninety four families and 50 seniors registered to receive the holiday packages of food and presents. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Staff)

Charities across the Bay Area are struggling to meet increased demand for toys and food for the holidays as more families reach out for a helping hand.

For many groups, including the Salvation Army, donations are not keeping up with demand.

Donations are up, however, at both the Alameda County Community Food Bank and the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano — and they hope the generosity keeps coming.

Donations to the Salvation Army have been similar to last year's levels in many places, but down about 5 percent in others, said Laine Hendricks, a spokeswoman for the organization's Golden State division, based in San Francisco. But demand has been up about 20 percent, she said.

"It's not keeping up with what we really need to get the job done," Hendricks said.

In Oakland, the Salvation Army toy drive was so short on donations that the charity ended up borrowing some toys from other agencies and buying others at Walmart, said Stefanie Vrapi, a spokeswoman for the Salvation Army in the East Bay.

The organization is hit especially hard by declines in donations at the red kettles outside stores, Hendricks said, because those funds sustain the charity year-round.

As of last weekend, the Salvation Army of Hayward was seeing a $23,000 shortfall compared with donations collected through the same time last year, said Kevin Hanson of the Hayward Salvation Army. To keep Hayward-area programs running next year without cuts, they will have to raise an additional $85,000 in the red kettle drive.


"If the demand continues like this in the new year, we will need even more money to assist people in need, and the way things are looking with kettles, we will have significantly less money to do so," Hanson said.

The Antioch Salvation Army received about half of what it typically gets for Toys for Tots, said Jackie Vaughnes-Smith of the Antioch Salvation Army. But the "Giving Trees" that her organization set up at a local mall and various restaurants to match needy youngsters with age-appropriate playthings has helped close the gap. The organization expects to help 800 families this year, up from 600 last year.

Other toy drives have also been hit hard, with about 50 percent fewer donations at both the Mayor's Holiday Toy Drive in Oakland and the Hayward firefighters' Toys for Kids drive, organizers said. The Oakland drive was almost out of toys Tuesday, coordinator Al Lujan said.

In Richmond, donations of food and toys to the Bay Area Rescue Mission have been steady, but monetary donations are down 12 percent from last year, Executive Director the Rev. John Anderson said. Shepherd's Gate, a Livermore women's and children's shelter, has received only about 10 percent of its annual food needs and will likely have to organize food drives in the spring and summer to compensate, facilities coordinator Keelie Chamberland said. The facility usually gets 95 percent of its food donations during the holidays.

The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano has been more fortunate.

"The community has been keeping pace with the increased need," Marilu Boucher, its development director, said.

The food bank, which gives turkeys and a special holiday basket for Christmas, has not run out of food or turned anyone away, Boucher said, but it still takes things day by day.

At the Alameda County Community Food Bank, workers hope a boost in donations and a last-minute surge on its Virtual Food Drive at will meet the need. So far, the food bank has collected about $117,000 of its $200,000 goal for the Virtual Food Drive.

"Our actual donations are up on the order of 20 percent for the year. But the demand has been crushing," food bank spokesman Brian Higgins said. Demand for its emergency food help line is up 50 percent from last year and 96 percent from two years ago.

It is best to donate online, as the food bank's truck fleet is overwhelmed with scheduled pickups, and the food bank gets bulk food at prices even cheaper than those at Costco, Higgins said.

"Our vast purchasing network allows us to distribute $7 in food for every $1 donated," Higgins said.

Staff writers Rowena Coetsee, Angela Hill, Eric Kurhi, Jeanine Benca, Kelly Rayburn and Katherine Tam contributed to this story.