Virtual Red Kettle another way to help Auburn’s needy

Looking behind the scenes
By: Jim Ruffalo
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Hanging the notebook by the chimney with care in order to make room for my annual lump of coal ... Come to think about it, what with the recent “global warming” dumping a decade’s worth of snow along with the economy dropping faster than Tiger Woods’ cell-phone bills, perhaps a free shipment of coal right about now would be a blessing. Fortunately, we are fast finding out that more than a few of our friends and neighbors appear to have more than a drop or two of Santa Claus blood tucked deep in their collective hearts. We learned quick that the greater Auburn area has always had more than its fair share of neighbors helping neighbors, and even aiding complete strangers, for that matter. But in times such as these, when a full time paying job is as scarce as a fact-checked statement from Al Gore, it’s particularly gratifying to see so many generous folks volunteering to make things a bit brighter. Ken Tokutomi immediately springs to mind. He’s been chairing the local Salvation Army contingent for nearly two decades, cramming that demanding task among other endeavors such as a school-board post, local politics and sundry other charitable and civic affairs. He told me the other day that the local Salvation Army donations are down 35 percent this year, so he’s created a virtual Red Kettle. His online version is accepting donations, so e-mail him at to get plugged in on this. Hearing that local donations are off is understandable, seeing as how more than a few paychecks throughout the village are either dwindling or disappearing. Still, I think about a close relative of mine, whom I won’t identify because she embarrasses easily. Her husband died last Christmastime, and alone now, she makes do on a paltry Social Security check of about $800. Nevertheless, after carefully doing her shopping over at the Grocery Outlet last week, she didn’t hesitate to drop the remaining — but much-needed — change into a Salvation Army kettle at the market’s exit. In her generous mind, she was well aware she just bought a priceless gift. Somewhat strange, isn’t it? I mean, we see a lot of overpaid politicians (forgive the redundancy), who toss taxpayers’ money around like they just grabbed it from the nearest Monopoly game. Yet when it comes time to make a charitable donation from their own stash, nickels somehow become very precious. But as my wife and mother have been saying for decades, it seems that the ones who know how important a helping hand is are the ones who extend it the most, even in the toughest times. The poorest among us usually are the ones who, on a per-capita basis, reach the deepest into worn wallets or patched purses and produce some spare change that already had a personal need. Yet, usually unhesitatingly, they try to help, praying or wishing the donation could be larger.  Now don’t think I’ve become Marxist and, thus, ready to dismiss those who are not destitute when it comes to being extremely generous. This column isn’t long enough to put together a complete roster of local citizens who are always standing by to help. Just look around and you’ll see the likes of Vic Macy and his team schlepping red barrels to be filled with food and toys, or KAHI’s ecumenical Dave Rosenthal, who must own a wash-and-wear Santa suit because he seems to be everywhere each Yuletide. Frank Calabretta annually turns his Atwood Road Bail House into the world’s largest Christmas card, which, incidentally, also helps Pacific Gas & Electric meet its payroll every December. This year, with the snowbanks reflecting the multi-colored lights, it was the most memorable electric display yet. And let’s remember Mark Saunders and Monique Krafft and Umpqua Bank, which answers more than a few Christmas wishes each year, as does Auburn Honda’s Jay Cooper, Taco Bill Mullins, Tom Dwelle, Norma Harris and every local service club and merchant who — usually quietly — makes this time of year special for a ton of boys and girls, and adults for that matter. Let’s not forget the so-called common folk who, despite the tough times, still endeavor to fill kettles, or dash off a small check to Toys For Tots, or load a small sack with canned goods and vittles to drop off at the local food banks. You’d be very surprised at what you think is a small donation or gift can turn out to be oh, so important to somebody who has nothing. In the meantime, please don’t get angry if your name isn’t here. After all, we all need to remember that there’s a writing infinitely greater than this that certainly has already included your name.  Jim Ruffalo’s column runs Sundays in the Journal. Reach him at