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Helping out for the holidays

Posted: Wednesday, Dec 16th, 2009

Murphy Labor Camp resident Julia Torres (left) gets help from Cal Fire Capt. Jerry Fernandez and others Wednesday in hauling donated food to her home during the annual Gladys Anderson Christmas Project. (Photos by Tarmo Hannula)

During the long, dark months of winter, when harvests have slowed and agricultural work comes to a virtual standstill, families that depend on the work often find themselves scraping by to feed their children and pay their rent.

The problem is worse during the holidays, when parents are unable to provide Christmas toys for their children.

Enter the Gladys Anderson Christmas Project, which brings together the efforts of Second Harvest Food Bank, the Salvation Army and a legion of Cal Fire firefighters and volunteers to supply donated food and toys to the needy families living in Santa Cruz County farm laborer camps.

“There is a great need,” Anderson said. “Many families are farm laborers, and the work is not there.”

Anderson added that the Christmas Project, now in its 31st year, is still seeking toy and gift donations, particularly for young adults.

On Wednesday afternoon, a team of fire trucks, personal vehicles and trucks from Second Harvest Food Bank visited eight labor camps, bringing bags of produce, frozen chickens, bread and tortillas to about 200 families. The care packages also included plates, glasses, utensils, jars of peanut butter and cans of soup.

At Murphy’s Camp on Murphy’s Crossing Road, about 20 families lined up to get their food, a gaggle of children running and laughing through the crowd of adults, who received their bags and boxes from firefighters and other volunteers.

Jedediah Wilson, a Cal Fire firefighter from Felton, said he’s been helping with the giveaway efforts for three years.

“It’s nice, because we’re giving back to the community,” he said.

Jasmine Ceja, who lives in one of the small apartments with seven of her relatives and her 8-month-old son, said agricultural work won’t begin to pick up for another three months.

“This is great,” she said. “It’s an extra help now that we don’t have work.”

The Christmas Project got its start in 1978, when Anderson met a financially struggling family whose 12-year-old daughter had a single wish for Christmas: a doll, a toy she had never owned.

The project now serves as many as 355 families, she said.

The food delivery typically takes place on the Wednesday before Christmas, while a separate toy distribution, with toys solicited by Christmas Project organizers, happens Christmas Eve.

“This will make their Christmas a little better,” said Second Harvest Food Bank agency relations manager Grace Galvan. “It will take some stress off. Instead of buying food or presents, they can pay rent.”

John Vesecky, outreach coordinator for Calvary Episcopal Church in Santa Cruz, came to help with the distribution. His church provides food for about 100 hungry families in Santa Cruz, and he said he wanted to return the favor.

“Second Harvest does so much for us,” he said. “With this project, they’re showing the community that there are people they don’t know who care about them. It’s really to show that we love our neighbors.”

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