Mayor's wish list: Volunteers with the giving spirit

Here are tangible ways to help Palo Altans in need

by Sid Espinosa

Another Palo Altan (this one a Stanford professor) recently asked me, "Where should my wife and I volunteer this holiday season? We want to include our kids, and we definitely want to help those who are struggling in our city during the holidays."

It is easy to assume that all Palo Altans are well off, but as evidenced by the nearly 500 people who were provided free Thanksgiving meals last week, many in our community need help. The good news is that there are non-profit community organizations doing great work for those most in need in Palo Alto, and here are a few ways that you too can help:

Provide meals. Sadly, many men, women and children in Santa Clara County go to bed hungry every night. Learn how you can provide, prepare and/or serve meals in Palo Alto at or by contacting

Donate clothes and blankets. Do you have any clothes and blankets that you haven't used in the past year? How about jackets? As temperatures drop, people who are sleeping on the streets or in parks need help keeping warm. Drop off these items at the Opportunity Center, 33 Encina Ave., weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Collect canned food. The food banks in Santa Clara County are getting fewer donations this year and the need for food donations continues to skyrocket. Please donate canned or pre-packaged food today and throughout the year. The Palo Alto Food Closet is open weekdays from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. They offer two bags of groceries per week to those Palo Altans most in need. Contact the Food Closet at 650-325-3663.

Contribute presents. Many kids go without any new toys at the holidays. Please put a smile on a local kid's face by donating to the Toy Shoppe. Toys can be dropped off at the Opportunity Center, 33 Encina Ave., weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Mentor someone who is homeless. The Downtown Streets Team has developed a successful program whereby you can work one-to-one in a supportive environment to mentor someone back to a life of self-sufficiency. Attend a monthly dinner to see if this is a good fit for you. Resume writing, gardening, team management, a good listening ear -- many backgrounds and skills are needed. Contact Chris Richardson at 650-462-1795.

Provide medical services and healthcare. Are you a nurse, doctor, psychiatrist, therapist or counselor? Peninsula HealthCare Connection needs volunteers to help with the myriad issues faced by the homeless. Contact Eileen Richardson at 650-462-1795 or email

Make a donation. All of the organizations listed above would welcome your donations. Non-profits are struggling through this recession. Use your monthly coffee allowance to support an organization doing great work in Palo Alto.

Support the Palo Alto Christmas Bureau. The Christmas Bureau collects funds each year and as it learns about local individuals and families in need, it provides direct support to folks through the holidays. This organization's history and many examples of "paying it forward" are truly inspiring. Learn more at

Donate to the Holiday Fund. The Palo Alto Weekly organizes an annual fundraising campaign that supports local non-profits through grants. To learn more or to donate, visit

During the holidays, as we gather with family and friends and count our blessings, let us all tangibly help those who are in need just a few blocks away. And please consider building a long-term relationship with the organizations that are listed here. Helping at the holidays is an excellent start, but all of these organizations will tell you that the needs exist throughout year.

Get involved. Donate. Volunteer. The rewards and the impact will be immeasurable. Thank you, and happy holidays!

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Like this comment
Posted by Carroll Harrington
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 28, 2011 at 11:42 am

As usual, Sid is right on the money...and it doesn't take a lot or any money to follow some of his tips. Pick up the phone or click on one of the links above, and you are on your way to making life better for someone else!

Like this comment
Posted by Not Everyone's Mayor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 28, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Interesting that the "good mayor" did not include the VA Hospital, where some of our nation's brave men and women are recuperating from various medical situations.

Former soldiers, sailors and marines need our respect, and consideration, at all times--but especially during the Holidays. Sadly, this mayor did not seem to think of them when suggesting what a "Stanford Professor" should do with his spare time.

Once again, not exactly "on the money" for this special interest front man.

Like this comment
Posted by Sid Espinosa
a resident of University South
on Nov 28, 2011 at 4:34 pm

@Not Everyone's Mayor -- Thank you for highlighting the needs of our veterans. Having been to the VA several times in the past few weeks, and having spoken extensively with vets and administrators there, I couldn't agree more that this is a community of need within Palo Alto. Word limitations on guest opinions meant that I excluded mention of kids at Ronald McDonald House, seniors at Avenidas, vets at the VA, and other groups in town. Perhaps that was a mistake. Thank you for raising this concern. I do hope that people will hear your call and support the VA. For more information visit: Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Jeff Rensch
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 29, 2011 at 11:35 am

Thanks to you Sid. Well said.

Like this comment
Posted by Joe Baldwin
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 29, 2011 at 11:49 am

Thanks to our Mayor for his thoughtful Guest Opinion, his call
for each of us to help our neighbors, and for his prompt and apt response to his accusatory critic. In my forty years here we've had some outstanding Mayors; none more so than Sid Espinosa.

Like this comment
Posted by Sandy Peters
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 29, 2011 at 9:03 pm

Thank you for pointing out the services of the Christmas Bureau of Palo Alto. For 55 years the all volunteer staff has worked to assure that approximately 99% of all donations collected (minimal overhead for paper and postage!) ends up in the hands of those people most in need in the Palo Alto community. The Bureau accepts confidential referrals of individuals and families in need from social services agencies, schools, churches, temples and other community agencies.  The all volunteer staff eliminates duplications by serving as a central clearing house.  The Bureau mails a holiday greeting with a check to referred families and individuals who are residents of the Palo Alto community. In December of 2010, they mailed 1,169 checks to people in need.

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