by Brianna Chu
Christmas is one of the most highly anticipated times of the year, but can also serve as a source of stress for struggling families, especially concerning presents. The Families in Transition (FIT) program, based at the Pasadena Unified School District’s Center for Student and Family Services (CSFS), partners with Salvation Army Pasadena to help make Christmas less stressful for students’ families as well as other families in need.
Eager to learn more about how FIT and the Salvation Army help our local community during the holidays, I signed up through the Pasadena Educational Foundation to volunteer for Salvation Army Pasadena’s annual Christmas assistance program. Preparations this year commenced on Saturday, December 14th, as volunteers – comprised of several families, couples, individuals, and a Boy Scout troop, many of whom seemed to be fairly familiar with the process already – gathered at 8 am at the Salvation Army Tabernacle gym to put together bags of non-perishable Christmas dinner food and organize and distribute toys to their appropriate areas and tables. The camaraderie and energy was high as we speedily packed food bags with cans of green beans, corn, and yams, boxes of stuffing, cake mix, or potatoes, and packets or cans of gravy. The goal was to pack a minimum of 600 bags; however, we decided to pack 700 bags, just for the sheer pride of it.
Christmas elves getting ready to pack some food bags.
We all then set to continuing the sorting of the toy supplies, which had already been started by some, arranging the toys on tables based on the appropriate age range so families were able to look for toys that matched the age and gender of their children. Stacks of boxes were dismantled, opened, and the toys were evaluated for age-appropriateness, then stacked onto tables.
On the morning of Tuesday the 17th, even before the 9am opening time, the line at Salvation Army wrapped around one of their buildings and out onto the sidewalk. Families waited patiently together, ready to enter the gym to select toys.
Tables of toys getting set up.
Families chose a large primary toy and a medium-sized secondary gift for each child, often talking through and planning gifts for each child with the volunteers assisting them around the gym. Each child received a stocking stuffer, and a table full of stuffed animals held fluffy companions for younger children. Books, beanie hats, and socks were given to every child, no matter their age. Finally, families picked up their designated number of food bags, and then headed out of the gym and home to start wrapping their Christmas gifts.
As a volunteer, helping to make the holidays a little brighter and merrier for those in our community felt like the epitome of Christmas spirit, and one I am glad to have been introduced to this year!
The Pasadena Educational Foundation supports PUSD’s Families in Transition office and the Center for Student and Family Services through fundraising, grant writing, community engagement, and providing volunteers. For more information on PEF’s impact on our schools go here.
The Pasadena Educational Foundation supports PUSD’s Families in Transition office and the Center for Student and Family Services through fundraising, grant writing, community engagement, and providing volunteers. The program is made possible by federal Title I funding awarded to the Pasadena Unified School District and grants from the City of Pasadena Community Development Block Grant Program, the California Department of Education Educating Homeless Children and Youth Grant, and the S. Mark Taper Foundation.
Photos by Brianna Chu / Pasadena Educational Foundation