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What you can do: Ways to make a difference this holiday season

A day never went by that my mother didn’t remind me of how fortunate we were to have our health, a home, each other, and food to eat. She got me into volunteering and donating at a young age: visiting home-bound seniors without family; collecting food and treats for local animal rescues and shelters; bringing toys to the firefighter toy drives for disadvantaged children. “There but for the grace of God go I,” she used to say. “Never forget how fortunate you are, and never stop helping those who are less fortunate.” Having grown up in the Bay Area, where instant millionaires and billionaires are minted what seems like every day, I am always shocked when I hear that local food banks have empty shelves; that there are home-bound seniors with no one to visit them; that the firefighters don’t have enough toys for all the children who want them; or that our city animal shelter is struggling just to keep its doors open.

Donations and volunteers are needed for organizations like Meals on Wheels, the San Francisco Food Bank, and Animal Care and Control all year round, but it’s especially tough during the holidays. If you can’t volunteer or donate, there are small ways to make a difference. For example, if you shop on Amazon, switch your bookmark to Amazon Smile ( It works exactly like Amazon’s regular website, except that every time you make a purchase, Amazon donates a portion of the purchase price to a charitable organization. You can choose from nearly one million organizations to support (I selected Friends of San Francisco Animal Care and Control), and you can change your charity at any time. If you want to volunteer at or donate to local charitable organizations this holiday season, here are some great ways to do it:

San Francisco Food Bank
Food drop-off: Mon–Fri,8 a.m.–3 p.m.
900 Pennsylvania Ave. (at 23rd)

Additional food barrel locations citywide The San Francisco Food Bank especially needs help during the holidays. Just weeks before this Thanksgiving, food banks throughout the Bay Area were severely short of turkeys (the food banks of San Francisco and Marin alone were short 1,800 turkeys), and they will likely be short for Christmas, too. Donate turkeys, hams, or other holiday meal staples individually, with your family, or by initiating a company-wide donation drive where you work. Cash donations go a long way: For every dollar, the food bank can distribute $6 worth of food. They also welcome you and your family to volunteer. Their website has a section entitled “7 Ways to Give This Holiday Season”; learn how you can help by visiting or by calling 415-282-1900.

Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly
Visits: Wednesday, Dec. 25
Gift drop-off: Mon–Fri thru Dec. 18, 9 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
909 Hyde Street, Ste. 628

Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly always needs volunteers to help prepare, pack, and deliver meals and gifts to over 800 isolated elders living with no support from friends or family who otherwise would be alone for the holidays. Families can make visits together. Please consider a Safeway or Walgreen’s gift card (these will be included in the gift bags volunteers bring for the Christmas Day In-Home Visits event). Other nongender-specific gifts are also welcomed (such as new small fleece blankets, 2014 calendars, and unopened boxes of chocolate). For more information on gift donations, visit; for more on holiday in-home visits, visit or by calling 415-771-7957.

Meals On Wheels
1375 Fairfax Ave.
(near Mendell)

Meals On Wheels feeds more than 2,000 seniors year round, and they always need donations and volunteers to make this possible. Delivery Assistant volunteers accompany staff drivers, visiting clients, helping with parking, and generally supporting drivers and clients to help ensure that each senior receives a friendly check-in along with meals. In partnership with the SF Food Bank, they also deliver groceries to seniors who have the means to prepare some of their own meals but need help with getting fresh food. Home Delivered Groceries volunteers bring these bags and a friendly smile to seniors. To become a Food Delivery Volunteer during the holidays or any time of the year, contact Danie Belfield at [email protected] or 415-343-1311.

Pet Food Express
Through Dec. 29
All stores

The annual Giving Tree fundraiser provides toys and financial aid to dozens of Northern California shelters during the holidays. Last year, Pet Food Express raised more than $80,000 for lonely dogs and cats in shelters. It’s very stressful being in a shelter, and toys and treats are a great way to calm down animals while they wait to be adopted. Just buy a Kong toy or Zuke’s treat to donate or make a monetary donation at any Pet Food Express store between now and Dec. 29 (and to say thanks, Pet Food Express will give you a coupon to use while shopping for your furry family members during January 2014). For more information, visit

Tenderloin Tessie
Wednesday, Dec 25, 1–4 p.m.
First Unitarian Church (Franklin & Geary Sts.)

For over 35 years, Tenderloin Tessie Holiday Dinners has fed the elderly, disabled, low-income families, the homeless, and anyone who doesn’t have a place to go on holidays, and especially needs volunteers to help prepare and serve on Christmas. For more information call Michael Gagne, 415-584-3252, or visit

S.F. Firefighter’s Toy Program
Any S.F. firehouse
Additional drop-off locations on Union Street thru December

The San Francisco Fire-fighters Toy Program believes that no child should be without a toy during the holiday season, and donations of new unwrapped toys are graciously accepted throughout the year at any San Francisco firehouse. Since 1949, it has evolved from a few firefighters repairing broken toys and bikes for 15 families to 300 firefighters and friends volunteering their time to distribute over 200,000 toys to more than 40,000 disadvantaged children. The Toy Program also serves many community organizations, including shelters for abused women and children, inner-city schools, children’s cancer wards, and pediatric AIDS units. For more information, call 415-777-0440 or visit

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