Brighter Christmas organizers faced a multitude of hurdles and roadblocks brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, hard work by volunteers and members of the community over the past few months led to another successful season as boxes of food and toys were handed out to more than 600 families in need Monday and Tuesday at Williams Middle School.

Steve Abercrombie, Brighter Christmas director, said it was a difficult time this year as some Brighter Christmas events were cancelled and others changed drastically.

“This has been, since I’ve been associated with it for the past 20 years, the most challenging — not only because of COVID — but sadly some of our board members are battling some illness that have hampered it,” Abercrombie said. “But again the city of Tracy comes shining through. We’ve done really well on getting donations. Pepsi and Amazon have been helping us out tremendously. We still get dedicated volunteers to help us out, but it’s definitely been a challenge.”

Entering its 43rd year, Brighter Christmas gives low-income families a 25-pound basket of food, plus toys for each child up to age 13. Leading up to Christmas each year, people around town donate food and toys, and the charity raises money to buy even more.

The pandemic disrupted the charity’s efforts early on.

Organizers had to move registration up a month and hold signups outside at a park. The annual Angel Tree at West Valley Mall and the Brighter Christmas Jail fundraiser were both cancelled. Abercrombie said they switched to smaller drives in parking lots to try and get toys and food for the families in need.

“We are so gracious for how people rallied around it. When we put out the word we needed help, people found ways to help us. We really were scared a little bit about whether we were going to be able to reach our goal and the citizens of Tracy stepped up again and helped us through it. It just shows what a great community we live in,” Abercrombie said.

Brighter Christmas board member Lori Sparger said they had to think outside the box but everything worked out in the end.

“It went exceptionally well. It seemed that everything we planned changed from the very beginning. We tried to put things together and something would happen and we would change,” Sparger said. “We had to get creative this year and actually some of the ideas we came up with will work very well for coming years.”

An Amazon wish list helped, with some people saying they preferred to shop that way.

“What has surprised me is the amount of things we have received. I think we got more this year than we ever have before,” Sparger said. “We didn’t have the Angel tree. We didn’t have the food drives at the school but once the word got out people started drives on their own, collecting money and talking with Steve to see what we needed.”

The biggest challenge Brighter Christmas faced was how to have volunteers and stay within the COVID restrictions that dictated how many could work indoors at a time.

“Fortunately the school district really stepped up and allowed us to get into Williams earlier. Because normally we would just be trying to do everything in one or two days, but since there weren’t kids on campus they allowed us to get in a week earlier,” Abercrombie said. “So with having fewer volunteers it allowed us to get to where we needed to be.”

Normally the toys are sorted one day and packed in boxes for distribution on another day but volunteers worked over 6 days with fewer volunteers.

“It’s been a challenge and I totally understand and appreciate the fact that some people said I just don’t want to take the chance but then were also restricted by the state and the county health department by the number of people we can have in it,” Abercrombie said.

The challenges they faced were nothing they couldn’t overcome.

“You know we’re certainly blessed, as I’ve said the people of Tracy have continually stepped up and were going to reach our goal of helping 620 families,” Abercrombie said.

Distribution was also broken down over two days.

“Actually I think it’s going to be a benefit in a way because one day we’ll get everybody done and then we can start reorganizing and prep for the following day. And again with having fewer volunteers out there we’re not going to burn people out. If they had to do all day with 25 volunteers that would really burn some volunteers out,” Abercrombie said.

Some things changed and some didn’t. Deliveries to homes continued for people with no way to get to the school and bring the boxes home.

In addition to home deliveries to families volunteers also delivered boxes of food and gifts to 80 seniors across Tracy this year.

Heading into Monday organizers were concerned if they would have enough volunteers to get things done on the distribution days.

“We had no idea if we were going to have anybody show up today,” Sparger said. “We have a number of people and it’s outside and I think people feel a little safer. People are always calling, we have a number of people on waiting lists wanting to help. Tracy is wonderful when it comes to volunteers, they just want to help.”

“It was funny, our March meeting it was like ‘we’ll be fine by December’, and then December gets here and we’re like, ‘Oh no,’ but it has worked out tremendously well,” she said.

• Contact the Tracy Press at tpnews@tracypress.com or 835-3030.

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