It was not the Grinch, but burglars who stole Christmas. And a small army of volunteers and donors has been working feverishly to bring it back.
Burglars broke into the Christmas for Everyone's Martinez warehouse in February and stole about $200,000 worth of gifts, supplies and equipment intended for the 2013 celebration at the New Hope International Church in Concord.
"They were convicted, but that cannot bring everything back," said Mary Perez, founder of the nonprofit Christmas for Everyone.
She and CFE volunteers are determined to go ahead with the 28th annual Christmas party for about 3,000 local working poor families and seniors.
"This year is especially hard. We may not have everything this year, but we will make it work," 20-year CFE volunteer Steve Wallace noted. "In August we were asking ourselves, 'Can we even do this?'"
Burglars stole refrigerators, tables, chairs, freezers, warming trays, blankets, clothing and all the gifts that had been accumulated throughout the year.
"We usually need about 2,000 to 3,000 presents and we have something less than 100," Perez said. "When volunteers first arrived to help sort clothing, I had to tell them to come back because there is nothing to do."
Volunteer Jacque Kowalski-Jennings is supervising donations and volunteers as they arrive at New Hope church on Olivera Road in Concord, where the Christmas Day celebration will be held.
Donors -- individuals, civic groups, businesses -- have stepped up big-time.
"San Ramon Rotary just brought in a lot of clothing and I am waiting for more volunteers (to sort and fold)," Kowalski-Jennings said. "We have one-tenth of what we usually have at this time of the year, but I am hopeful."
Gifts for all ages, toys and gently used children's clothing are especially in short supply, according to Wallace, who solicits donations and organizes the all-volunteer food preparation.
After Clayton City Councilman Howard Geller heard about the burglary, he and members of the Clayton Business and Community Association made a contribution to help replace some of the stolen equipment, and later donated an additional $4,000 for gifts.
On Christmas morning, families line up outside in the cold at 3 or 4 a.m. waiting for the event to open. Entering guests are given a bag and asked to select donated clothing from neatly sorted stacks and racks. Later comes a traditional Christmas dinner, music, Santa and Christmas carols, haircuts, manicures, face painting, games and gifts for children and adults.
"I like to help because it covers people's every need. They don't just go there, have a (turkey and ham) meal and leave," CFE entertainment Chairwoman Maxine Chan explained. "They have a warm holiday experience."
Contact Dana Guzzetti at email@example.com or call 925-202-9292.
WHAT: Christmas for Everyone, with free dinner, gifts, clothing, entertainment, services
WHEN: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Christmas Day, Wednesday, Dec. 25
WHERE: New Hope International Church, 2120 Olivera Court, Concord
INFORMATION: www.christmasforeveryone.com or call 925-228-2233
DONATIONS: Especially needed are toys and gifts for all ages, blankets for adults; monetary donations
VOLUNTEERS: Needed Christmas Day, morning and/or afternoon in a variety of areas: greeters, servers, hair stylists, performers, costumed characters, and to set up and clean up; also needed Dec. 27, for cleanup. Performance volunteers contact Maxine Chan at 925-969-9693