Auburn Salvation Army aids needy with Christmas toys, food

Mt. Vernon Hall in North Auburn becomes area’s center for goodwill over two days
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - Times have been tough and money has been tight for Nicole Hickman of Lake of the Pines. So when she stepped into a warm room Wednesday with plenty of smiling faces and a plethora of free toys to choose from to put under her family’s Christmas tree, it was with a sense of relief – and gratitude. Christmas will arrive at the Hickman household – which includes offspring ages 18, 12, 7, 6 and 1 – on schedule and with a message of joy and goodwill toward others. Hickman said her partner, an electrician, had been laid off from his last job nine months ago and two weeks ago started a new one at $9 an hour. Before that, she had received help from the Salvation Army to pay their Pacific Gas & Electric bill. But money’s still scarce as the family juggles rent and PG&E payments while looking toward a hopefully brighter future. “The money now goes to keeping the lights on,” Hickman said. “This means a lot. We wouldn’t be having a Christmas without it.” Over two days, ending at 4 p.m. Thursday, the Auburn Salvation Army expects to provide food for a Christmas dinner and presents to 580 children and their families, social service director Michelle Fish said. In total, 500 families were invited to the Mt. Vernon Grange Hall in North Auburn to get an extra helping hand. Parents leave their children at home and pick out three or four gifts for each child, Fish said. Outside, turkey and donated Christmas dinner items are provided. “These are families on our database that we help throughout the year and know that they are truly needy,” Fish said. Bonnielee Josefson, a chaplain who works with Placer County Jail and Juvenile Detention Center inmates, was at the Grange Hall to collect gifts and toys on behalf of two adult inmates. “It brings joy to me because I get to be Santa and deliver gifts,” Josefson said. “But it’s also humbling. If you go to where the homes are, it’s very humbling.” Josefson said that people in the Lake of the Pines area where she lives are fairly well off and may not realize that their child’s classmate may be living in a crowded camper shell – with no truck – off a dirt road, as one of the people she knows does. Or they may not know people in jail such as the woman Josefson said was desperate to take care of her children and forged a check after losing her job and having her car-engine blow up. Josefson said she’s visited with Juvenile Detention Center teens who have told her they would rather be incarcerated and feeling safe than being free and out in the open. “What’s the gift?” Josefson said. “My gift is remembering everyone is no different than me. And I can always help them, one at a time.” The joy of assisting with the annual Salvation Army gift and food distribution has been a family affair for Elaine McCann, whose parents started helping two decades ago and she keeps up the tradition with her children. “Folks are so grateful,” McCann said. “It’s not about toys; it’s about giving a family a chance to be a family at Christmas. And we get way more than we give away.”