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Christmas baskets brighten the season for 600 families

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The people just kept coming Saturday to an annual Auburn event designed to help make Christmas more festive for the community’s needy. By the end of the Auburn Area Christmas Basket program’s day of giving Christmas dinners, toys and clothing, more than 600 families representing nearly 2,000 people had been provided with a generous helping of the Christmas spirit. Two hundred volunteers, representing a year-long effort that reaches out to every corner of the community for support, helped guide families through a Gold Country Fairgrounds armory building brimming with food and good cheer. Isobel Luogo heard about the event after a neighbor returned home with a flier from church. Speaking in Spanish through a translator, Luogo said she had lost her job at a local restaurant 15 days earlier. With three children ages 6 to 15 at home, the hamper of food — enough for two weeks of meals — was a blessing, she said. “We had a greater need this year than last year,” Luogo said. Auburn’s Rhonda Cary returned for a second year and said she’s appreciative of the Christmas Basket Program’s efforts to give her and others a more joyous Christmas. Cary said that because she’s on disability, rent, utilities and food bills eat up her income. “They take almost everything you’ve got,” Cary said. “It’s just hard times.” Manuel Ferreira, a Gift Basket Program board member, said that area residents responded well to this year’s call for food and donations, even in a recession. “We thought we were going to be short but the donations kept coming in and we overfilled the boxes,” Ferreira said. Vic Macy, chairman of the event, said 600 families signed up and he expected more to turn out at the end of the day. The last few previous years had averaged 550 families total. The yearly event has been taking place for nearly 30 years and one of the mainstays has been the Catholic Ladies Relief Society, who make hundreds of knitted caps. Rose Ford, a Catholic Ladies Relief Society, sat behind the table of brightly colored caps, which were rapidly being snapped up by children and adults during a chilly morning. “It’s great when little kids come in,” Ford said. “It makes it worthwhile when you see how happy they become.” The giving didn’t stop within the confines of the armory. Members of the Auburn 49er Lions Club collected boxes of food from the building, packed them into a vintage Cadillac, picked up Santa Claus and drove to four local addresses where needy families were waiting for them. The Lions provided extra presents based on wish lists provided by the Salvation Army. Kelly Post, a Lion who coordinated the outreach effort, said one of the families had taken in relatives and numbered seven children. “Christmas is stressful for people on the lower end of the income scale,” said Post, a marriage and family therapist. “And right now, there is a lot of stress. So we’re glad we can help out and ease some of that.” The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com or comment at Auburnjournal.com.