Family Giving Tree reaches major milestone of 2 million gifts


Milpitas charity helps low income families

For 31 years, Family Giving Tree has made the holidays brighter for low-income families in the Bay Area by distributing toys, books and other gifts through its network of more than 400 partner agencies. And Friday, the Milpitas-based nonprofit celebrated a huge milestone by providing its two-millionth gift.


“It took us 22 years to reach 1 million gifts, and 9 years to reach 2 million,” said “Queen Elf” Jennifer Cullenbine, who founded Family Giving Tree in 1990 with the help and encouragement of college classmate Todd Yoshida. Cullenbine had proposed a project to deliver 300 gifts to families in East Palo Alto, but her class turned down the idea. Yoshida, who was at Friday’s festivities, later approached her and said, “Let’s do it anyway.”


It started small, providing gifts for just one classroom at a school. The next year, it was three classrooms. Today, the Holiday Wish Drive is an operation that would rival the North Pole.


Every year, staff members and legions of volunteer “elves” convert a donated, temporary warehouse — this year, it’s in Sunnyvale — to a veritable gift factory. Some are donated, others are purchased, and they all get sorted and labeled to grant holiday wishes to families around the region. Silicon Valley corporations usually hold donation drives and bring in big numbers of volunteers to help sort all the gifts, though the COVID-19 pandemic created challenges last year and has continued to affect this year’s efforts.


Because many offices are still closed, companies provided more monetary donations this year instead of merchandise. That left it up to Purchasing Manager Kristyn Myers Begari, who had about $750,000 to spend on gifts — and dealing with supply chain issues, inflation and all the other headaches hitting consumers this year. Santa Claus may check his list twice, but Begari takes it a step further. “We check to make sure every child has a wish here,” she said.


While it all comes together in the last few weeks of the year, it’s really a year-round effort (and that’s not even counting the back-to-school backpack drive Family Giving Tree added a few years ago). You can find out more or donate to help out at www.familygivingtree.org.


On Friday, gifts were still being prepared for delivery, with a “store” of purchased gifts filling a few rooms. One wall had a variety of Baby Yoda-related gifts, another had microscopes and science kits. There were books, puzzles and backpacks and shelves stacked with boxes of headphones. Volunteers were working with smiles on their faces — something that’s not lost on Cullenbine after more than three decades of being in the elf business.


“I think it took me almost 10 years to learn the lesson that the people who are most affected by the Family Giving Tree process are actually those who give. Having families volunteer in the warehouse and not having an age restriction for little kids means that we’re teaching them about helping others when they’re very little. If we continue doing that, shouldn’t we be creating a more loving community with less people who need help?”


And what’s on the top of Cullenbine’s wish list for Family Giving Tree? She’d love it if someone would donate a warehouse to the nonprofit for its permanent use, eliminating the annual hunt for more and more space.


Source: The Mercury News


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