The Ukiah Valley Christmas Effort is in full swing at Carl Purdy Hall. Treasurer Tim Knudsen is setting up rows and rows of boxes, over 700 of them, all waiting to be filled with family holiday dinners; Steve Perin, board president, and Nancy Miller, secretary, are sitting behind a long table running the operation; Jan Tipton and Julie Knudsen, co-chairs of the toy committee, are working the floor; 13 prisoners from Chamberlain Creek are wrapping and sorting gifts, marking and building boxes and doing what needs to be done; and Sparky, the Knudsens' partially paralyzed blue healer, shepherd, pit bull mix scoots himself along the floor on his hindquarters, happily greeting any newcomer who enters the building. They started on Wednesday, the 12th, and will work every day until the 24th when the food and toys will be delivered to 750 families in the Ukiah Valley. On the 26th and 27th they will return to re-box any leftover presents and put them in storage for next year. Their storage unit costs $800 a year and they are hoping to find someone who can donate a facility to save them this yearly expense.
The south half of the hall is taken up with tables filled with toys both on top and underneath. There are sections specifically designated for teen boys, teen girls, models, cars, puzzles, books, dolls, arts and crafts, school supplies, games, action figures, bikes and Barbie and infant dolls. Miller does all the data processing for the families. She starts in the beginning of October and sends paperwork to the school districts for every child in school. The kids receive the papers and return them to their teachers. Miller picks them up from the district offices and puts all the information into her computer. They try to honor specific requests whenever possible -- everything from tea sets to blankets to coats to an MP3 player. If a family requests clothes or a bicycle they try to deliver it. One child requested a printer, and retired school teacher and volunteer Karen Bone hit the mall early on Black Friday and bought one.
Miller says, "We have a young girl whose family's home was completely destroyed by a fire; they lost all their pets. She wanted a guinea pig and one of my nieces has a female with babies. So she will get one of them and Rainbow Ag will supply the cage and food. We have disabled children and we get hold of the parents to find out what they want. Last year we were able to supply a three- seated stroller for a family."
Miller explains the gift-giving opportunities presented at Mendo Lake Credit Union and Redwood Credit Union. "In the lobby of each is a tree with tags that have the names of kids and gifts they want. If you want to sponsor someone, find a tag with gift items that you would like to purchase, buy the toys, and give them to someone at the credit union. They will bring them to us."
Tipton and Knudsen, toy chairwomen, work year round to make sure there are enough toys for needy children in the valley. Their ongoing work begins the day after Christmas when they start shopping the aisles for sales for specialized items like teen make up and nail polish kits that are only available during the season. Then they will store them for next year.
Volunteer representatives from Ukiah High, the LDS Church, Kiwanis, Ukiah Soroptimists and Ukiah Rotary come to help and this particular day finds Crew 3 from Chamberlain Conservation Camp busily moving around the building and processing toys.
Captain Tony Grim says of his crew that they like doing this, seeing kids getting presents, and they are excited about being able to help out. Tipton says about them, "We love these guys; they are wonderful. They do what needs to be done and they do it right.
Knudsen arranges food for the volunteers and is happy to say that the following businesses graciously donate: Burger King, Taco Bell, KFC, Ukiah Garden Café, Schats Bakery, Ci's Grill, Club Calpella, Little Caesar's Pizza, Poppa Murphy's, and Asia Grand Buffet.
Perin says, "We probably have about 3,000 or 4,000 toys here right now. In a normal day we see somewhere between 40 to 100 volunteers and when the place gets humming we have over 150 people helping. We come in about 8 or 9 in the morning and depending on the day sometimes stay until 8 or 9 at night. If you want to help, just show up; we will find something for you to do. We will be here every day until the 24th when we do the deliveries for which we also need help."
Where do they get the resources for all of this? "People walk in and give us money," says Miller. "We received $1,000 from an anonymous donor. One woman came in and we told her we needed bike helmets. She went out and about an hour later returned with 20 of them. People drive to Santa Rosa to get good deals on toys to bring here. The two local Rotary clubs adopt kids; the leadership class at Ukiah High has adopted 26 families; all the branches of the Savings Bank have barrels to receive donations; the Beauty College has a barrel as well as Little Caesar's Pizza. Ukiah Unified and Potter Valley Unified School Districts have canned food drives and we will pick their donations up on the 17th."
"The two toy runs will bring toys here on Saturday and Sunday. The North Bay Bikers will meet at the Water Trough on Saturday at 12 noon and will ride here, rain or shine, en masse, with their deliveries. On Sunday, Bill Nash, who has been working with us for years, helps to organize the Ukiah Toy Run and they will bring donations and toys on Sunday."
Tipton, with a two-headed dinosaur in one hand and a triceratops in the other, does whatever needs to be done. She supervises volunteers, answers questions, organizes the toy tables and directs people. She works and talks. "We shop all year for this and our major shopping is from the 26th on into January when we can get 50 percent to 75 percent off. We do bunko fundraisers year round held at the Senior Center."
The boxes for each family will be filled with non-perishable canned goods, potatoes, boxed stuffing, apples from Gowan's and miscellaneous foods. They purchase most of the perishables and have 700 frozen turkeys on order from Costco. Jim Mulheren will drive his truck to Santa Rosa on the 23rd to pick them up and on the morning of the 24th they will be boxed and delivered. They start going out at 8:30 in the morning and continue delivering until the last one is out; some years they finish at 2 in the afternoon and some years they go as late as 7 in the evening.