While the Holiday Project features many members of the community banding together to help those in need, it’s the young helpers that stand out in Jeanne Robbins’s mind.
“I love to watch the children,” said Robbins, who is the Holiday Project Coordinator for Atascadero Loaves & Fishes. “I like to think that we are grooming tomorrow’s volunteers because we won’t be here forever.”
Loaves & Fishes assists food insecure families throughout the year. But on December 18, the organization will work with Toys for Tots, Coats for Kids, the Kiwanis Club, the Marine Corps Reserves and the Salvation Army to put on Holiday Project at the Atascadero Armory. At the same time, Coats for Kids and the Salvation Army will partner with the Toy Bank of Greater Paso Robles for its 25th annual Day of Giving December 14 at the Paso Robles Events Center.
In Atascadero, Loaves & Fishes expects to give out roughly 300 food boxes during the Holiday Project. The organization operates a food pantry that food-insecure families can visit on weekdays, from 1 to 3 p.m.
Hundreds of people are fed through the pantry every week.
While families can typically visit the pantry twice a month, the Holiday Project allows them an extra box of food in December.
Not everyone who gets food during the Holiday Project is a pantry regular, though. And the food offered won’t necessarily be the makings of a holiday meal (Expect lots of soups and vegetables).
“Our hope is that what we give them will free them up to get what they will
want to get for a holiday dinner,” said Robbins, whose husband, Carl, is also a Holiday Project coordinator.
Interested families will need to register ahead of time. Once they do, they will also be eligible to get toys and coats at the armory.
“The kids don’t normally come because the parents are also getting toys,” said Barbie Butz, who volunteers with Coats for Kids.
Each year Coats for Kids gives out roughly 4,000 “gently used” garments to families in the North County, Butz said. Local cleaners offer to clean the coats, which are also available for adults for free.
Coats for Kids was an offshoot of the Los Ninos Home Society Auxillary, which Butz led for two years as president.
Meanwhile, Toys for Tots collects toys with the help of the Marines and the Kiwanis Club of Atascadero. Last year, 8,500 toys were given to more than 1,700 children. Toys for Tots drop-off boxes are fixtures throughout the community, beginning the first week of November.
“We have 55 locations in Atascadero and Templeton,” said Sage Hider, the local Toys for Tots coordinator.
The goal, Hider said, is to provide two toys for every child, plus a game or puzzle to enjoy with the family, a book and a stocking stuffer.
While toys might not seem as important as food or clothing, it is important emotionally.
“If you feel left out, that makes you feel pretty bad as a kid,” said Hider, a long-time Kiwanis member.
Loaves & Fishes is the umbrella for the Holiday Project, which it has put on since 1985. The event specifically reaches out to those who live in Atascadero, the California Valley, Creston, Santa Margarita, and Templeton, making it hyper-local.
“We’re trying to take care of our own,” Robbins said.
While the event is intended for low- and very low-income families, Robbins said anyone can find themselves in difficult financial situations.
“Things come up,” she said. “Doctor bills, losing your job.”
Local businesses contribute to the cause, but Robbins said the organization always encourages donations.
While the armory can get pretty packed during the Holiday Project, Robbins said the mood is always friendly.
“You never see anyone getting upset,” she said. “It’s just a heart-warming day.”