SAN CARLOS -- A charity that gives holiday presents to several thousand children in San Mateo County has had trouble filling up Santa's sleigh -- and with Christmas less than a week away, the organization is still seeking donations.
The Children's Fund, run by the county's Human Services Agency, benefits roughly 4,000 disadvantaged kids who are served by county programs, including foster children and mental health patients. Each Christmas the agency collects donated gifts from individuals, businesses and nonprofits and distributes them to the children.
But this year donations are down about 30 percent, estimated Rebecca Asch, who coordinates the program for the county. The Children's Fund isn't the only charitable group in the area to see a gift shortage. Sacred Heart Community Service in Santa Clara County was only halfway to its goal of 18,000 presents as of Wednesday.
The Children's Fund is particularly lacking in gifts for infants, such as books and blankets, and for adolescents, whose preferences include jewelry-making kits, sports equipment and art supplies. But with time running short -- donations must be made by Monday, if not Friday -- the fund now prefers monetary contributions, which allow organizers to purchase the exact types of presents that are still needed.
This week Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, and a few dozen of her volunteers, dubbed the "Speier Corps," swooped down to the Children's Fund's headquarters on Quarry Road in San Carlos to help sort donations and pick out toys on children's wish lists. Once a wish list is filled, the gifts are put in a box for delivery by a county social worker.
As her volunteers unpacked 77 bags of teddy bears donated by Redeemer Lutheran Ministries in Redwood City, Speier picked up a 7-year-old girl's wish list and headed to a set of metal shelves holding gifts sorted by age and gender. The congresswoman chose a "Super Mario"-themed memory game and glow-in-the-dark bracelets.
It's unclear why donations are down, said Speier, now in her third year helping out the Children's Fund. Maybe the fact that Thanksgiving fell late this year, she theorized, put people behind in their plans for charitable giving.
Whatever the cause, Speier urged county residents who have benefitted from the improving economy to dig a little deeper for those who have fallen behind.
"It is really important," Speier said, "that at a time when the economy's doing so well, when all of the businesses and industries in this county are really showing very rosy futures, that we take a step back, look at all we have and recognize there are lots of people that have much less."
Veronica Osegueda, a case manager for the county who works with teen mothers, said some of her 40 clients are homeless or living in shelters, cut off from their families. These girls struggle to buy diapers and formula, she said. Toys for their children are out of reach.
"Buying presents for their kids is just not in their budget," Osegueda said. "So this might be the only gifts they'll get."
--Drop off a check or gift from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday or Monday at 550 Quarry Road in San Carlos. Checks are preferred and should be made out to "The Children's Fund."
--For those donating a gift, items that are especially needed include: books, rattles, blankets and toys for infants; and jewerly-making kits, makeup kits, sports equipment, art supplies and board games for adolescents.