Thursday, December 29, 2016

Christmas Baskets in Santa Ynez

  • Updated 
  • Lynn Wood - Pat Fallin coordinated the 55 Basket Program prepared by members of St. Mark's-in-the-Valley Episcopal Church. 

  • The annual Christmas Basket Program may just be one of the most collaborative charitable efforts in the Santa Ynez Valley. It is run out of Old Mission Santa Ines, coordinated by Genevieve Geyser and other volunteers from the lay Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
    Nearly 100 baskets were contributed by mission parishioners. About a third of the total baskets distributed were contributed by St. Mark's-in-the-Valley Episcopal Church parishioners in an effort coordinated by Pat Fallin. Four baskets came from the Ballard School and still more from members of Santa Ynez Valley Presbyterian Church. Each "basket" consists of a box of wrapped gifts, a hamper full of pantry supplies and a supermarket gift card. Fifth-graders from Santa Ynez Valley Charter School packed the food hampers.
    The Christmas Basket Program was started at the mission more than 25 years ago as a way for mission parishioners to help its own. Families no longer are required to be members of the mission parish. Any local family with minor children that is struggling financially and unable to provide can apply for a basket. 
    Geyser vets each family. These are the working poor seen every day in the Valley, laboring in the fields, busing tables in restaurants, making beds in hotels, she explained.
    "Some of the parents are working two or three jobs and it is still not enough to do anything special for their family at Christmas," Fallin said.
    Each approved family is anonymously "adopted" -- the only information given out are the ages, gender and sizes of each family member. The adoptive family then fills a large box with colorfully wrapped gifts and delivers it to the mission for distribution.
    Each family also receives a large hamper filled with staples like rice, juice, breakfast cereal and peanut butter, plus a supermarket gift card, all paid for with cash donations. The final item, packaged in the hours just before distribution, is a bag with two fresh chickens from El Rancho Market. 
    According to Fallin, St. Mark's jumped into the program a few years after the Rev. Randall Day took over as pastor there (in 2008). This was her fifth Christmas coordinating her church's effort.
    "Randall thought it was better for us to join in an existing program rather than doing one of our own at St. Mark's. That way we could make it stronger and better. At St. Mark's, we feel that it's more productive for us all to work together. It's more successful. We can serve a lot more people by all joining forces," Fallin said.
    Fallin moved to the Santa Ynez Valley five and a half years ago from Aspen, Colorado, where she'd lived for 40 years.
    "Forty years of shoveling snow was quite enough," she laughed.
    More important to her decision to relocate was proximity to family. She has a son in Los Angeles and a daughter, Ashley Brady, in Los Olivos. Anxious to be active in her new parish, she couldn't say no when Day asked her to take over organizing St. Mark's role in the Christmas Basket Program.
    In mid-November, Fallin received 50 numbered boxes from Geyser. Each one corresponded to a family available for adoption. She put them out at St. Mark's the weekend before Thanksgiving and they were all quickly spoken for. One parishioner with four children at the Ballard School requested additional boxes -- one for each classroom -- and helped organize the students in filling those boxes. Parents of children in St. Mark's Preschool wanted to be represented as well, bringing the total number of boxes from St. Mark's to 55. An additional $500 in cash donations came in. That money went to Geyser to make purchases for the food hampers.
    One of Fallin's favorite aspects of the program is the participation of the SYV Charter School's fifth-graders in packing those food hampers. It's a job the school has taken on for several years.
    "This is what the Christmas Basket Program is all about," said Fallin as she watched the kids -- each wearing an elf hat -- dutifully carry out their assignments. "They're so invested in this, in doing something for someone else."
    According to Geyser, 156 baskets were distributed this year.
    "They benefited 638 individuals, 348 of those are children," she said.

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