Holiday giving: How you can help

Places to share the spirit of the season

While for many the holidays are a time for belly-filling meals, gift-giving and cheer, other local families feel the strain as they buy extra food and gifts. A number of organizations are working to make this holiday season brighter for those in need, and they depend on donations and volunteers from the community to make it all possible. You can make a difference by contributing to the following programs.

Christmas Bureau of Palo Alto

The Christmas Bureau of Palo Alto mails checks to individuals and families in need during the holidays. The recipients are referred to the bureau by social service agencies, schools and other community agencies. Recipients are Palo Alto residents and families with children at schools in the district.

To make a donation, visit the Christmas Bureau of Palo Alto website or send a check to Christmas Bureau of Palo Alto, P.O. Box 51874, Palo Alto, CA 94303. All checks must be made out to "The Christmas Bureau of Palo Alto."

Community Services Agency

Mountain View-based Community Services Agency provides safety-net services, operates a food pantry and collects holiday toys for low-income and homeless residents of Mountain View, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and the surrounding area.

To make a donation, volunteer or organize a toy or food drive, go to Non-perishable food donations may be dropped off during business hours at 204 Stierlin Road, Mountain View.

Downtown Streets Team

The Streets Team organization is dedicated to diminishing homelessness by getting men and women off the streets and regaining their self-sufficiency and dignity. The organization's annual meal, the IVSN Shelter Network Estelle Chalfin Thanksgiving Day Community Dinner, will be held at All Saints Episcopal Church, at 555 Waverley Street, from noon to 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving day. Volunteers are needed to prepare food at home and on location, help serve and clean up after the meal. Food donations are also accepted.

Recipes, food lists and more information can be found here. To RSVP, contact Eileen Richardson at To donate to the Streets Team, visit their website.

Ecumenical Hunger Program (EHC)

The Ecumenical Hunger Program is an East Palo Alto-based nonprofit organization that provides food, clothing, household items, case management services and more to families in need. During the holiday season, the program works to provide families in East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Palo Alto food for Thanksgiving and toys for Christmas. The private organization depends on donations from the community to their Teen Gift Program and Holiday Food Box Distribution.

To donate for the holidays, contact Lakesha Roberts at or 650-323-7781. If you are interested in volunteering, contact Akala Francis at or 650-323-7781.

InnVision Shelter Network

InnVision Shelter Network (IVSN) is dedicated to helping homeless families regain permanent housing with "Beyond the Bed" services that have a 90 percent success rate for program graduates to regain permanent housing and self-sufficiency. The organization's 17 sites throughout the Bay Area rely on donations and volunteers from the community to provide shelter and support for those in need. There are numerous ways to help out this holiday season including hosting a "party with a purpose," donating a holiday, decorating a shelter and more.

To join the effort, visit the group's website. For additional information, contact Nathan Porras at or call 650-685-5880.

Ronald McDonald House at Stanford Wishing Tree

The Ronald McDonald House at Stanford provides a place for children and their families to stay while receiving treatment for life-threatening illnesses at local hospitals. Every holiday season, the house creates hundreds of paper ornaments, each listing a household item or toy needed for the House or a family. The House will send labeled ornaments to those who choose to participate. Gifts are requested for babies, kids, teens and parents, in addition to household or Happy Wheels cart items.

To participate, contact Erica Lee at or call 650-470-6011. The gift drop-off deadline is Thursday, Dec. 18. For more information, and to learn about other ways to contribute, visit the Ronald McDonald House website.

Second Harvest Food Bank

The Second Harvest Food Bank provides food for nearly 250,000 people every month, many of whom are children and seniors. The organization partners with nonprofit agencies at more than 770 sites to distribute food. The Holiday Food and Fund Drive raises nearly half of the organization's revenues each year. Community members can donate to Second Harvest Food Bank or host a food and fund drive.

To support the organization, visit their website or call 866-234-3663. Anyone in need of food can call the hotline at 800-984-3663.

Shoebox Project for Shelters

This charitable holiday project organized by two local residents encourages community members to collect small gifts in shoeboxes, which are then distributed to women, some victims of domestic violence, at shelters in San Mateo and San Jose. Shoeboxes can be filled with items such as socks, sweatshirts, shampoo, pen and paper, makeup, chocolate, candy or an inspirational note.

For more information, visit the project's website, or contact Sharon Wong at

St. Anthony's Padua Dining Room

The Padua Dining Room serves more than 500 hot meals daily all year long and close to 900 during the holiday season. A full Thanksgiving meal will be served from noon to 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 27. A feast will also be served from noon to 2:30 p.m. on Christmas Day. In addition to providing meals, the Padua Dining Room teams up with Menlo Park and San Carlos firefighters in a toy giveaway on Christmas Eve. Starting at 8 a.m. parents can come pick up toys for children under 14. All programs rely on donations from the community. Food (especially frozen turkeys), new unwrapped toys and cash donations help to make these efforts possible. Volunteers are also invited to lend a hand.

For more information or to make a donation, visit their website.

If there is a Palo Alto-area organization whose holiday efforts should be added to this list, email for consideration.

To provide year-round help to local organizations that serve kids and families, consider making a donation to the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund.

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