ATASCADERO —  Each year the community pulls together to help their neighbors struggling during the holiday season. The Atascadero Loaves and Fishes Holiday Project event has provided coats, food and toys to those less fortunate for three decades. On Dec. 18, community members waited under rainy skies for some holiday relief.

Held at the National Guard Armory in Atascadero on Dec. 18, the charitable event brings together the Atascadero Kiwanis Club, Toys for Tots and Coats for Kids. 

“I think that it’s a great outreach to the community,” said a woman who received support this year. “Sometimes you just need a little help and a little extra something to put under the tree. I appreciate everybody that’s here, every person for doing what they do.”

Now in their ninth year of volunteering with ALF, the husband and wife team of Carl and Jeanne Robbins have led the Project for the past seven years. They help coordinate the collection of food and registration for the event. 

“We have 250 families this year that we are helping,” said Jeanne Robbins. “Loave and Fishes is the umbrella for the Project but Coats for Kids and Toys for Tots work on their own.” 

In the past, the holiday giveaway has aided up to 500 families.

Jeanne Robbins said that the Project services Atascadero, Templeton, Santa Margarita, Creston and California Valley residents and takes the community to accomplish. Volunteers, nonprofits, schools and businesses all participate in one way or another to gather items or hold food drives. 

“It is that proverbial, ‘it takes a village,’” said Jeanne Robbins. “We had about 26 people loading boxes today (Tuesday) and that’s the adult volunteers. The children from Fine Arts Academy, San Benito and Escuela del Rio were here pushing the boxes.”

Items gathered for the annual Holiday Project distribution filled the Atascadero National Guard Armory early last week. Photo by Mark Diaz

She said that the San Gabriel and Montesorri schools help sort the goods. 

Although designated for low-income families in the area, Jeanne Robbins said that people seeking assistance do not need to show proof of income. However, they are required to show proof of residence and ALF requests health cards or birth certificates from the children that are in the family.  

“We’re a limited resource,” said Jeanne Robbins. “We don’t have the funding to do outside our service area.”

Jeanne Robbins said the food ALF provides is not meant to be a holiday dinner, rather it is intended to free up money to help go and buy the celebratory meal that they want. Food donations are sorted and placed into boxes and separated according to the number of people in the family. This year, Jeanne Robbins said, they have two families of 12. This is the third or fourth year that they will be giving away frozen turkeys or roasting chickens. For the first time, ALF allowed displaced/homeless people to register for the event. This year, ALF collected 3,900 cans of vegetables alone.

“This year, we have actually registered some homeless people and they are getting no-cook bags because they have no place to cook,” said Jeanne Robbins, “…and that way they can get a coat.”

According to Barbie Butz, the event used to be held at St. William’s Catholic Church. Jeanee Robbins said the Armory is the ideal site to hold the event for two reasons — plenty of room and it doesn’t disrupt any businesses.

“It’s the only site that has enough square footage to accommodate all three entities,” Carl Robbins said.

Getting through this together, Atascadero