Like Santa’s elves, volunteers from churches, local businesses, city offices, parents, Girl and Boy Scouts packed their vehicles with gifts and food for holiday meals Saturday in the Washington Elementary School playground as part of the Burbank Coordinating Council’s Holiday Basket program.
About 500 families were receiving goods through the program that has been a tradition in town since 1946. Some of the families were adopted by organizations whose members purchased the items to fill the baskets. Coordinating council members held a food drive on Dec. 11 at several grocery stores and put together the balance of the baskets with donations from the community late Friday afternoon, said council President Janet Diel.
Sharon Goff of Burbank said she has volunteered to deliver the baskets with her two sons on and off for the last 15 years. She got them involved in the project with her as a way for them to give back, she said.
“The recipients are always happy and appreciative when we bring them the food and gifts,” Goff added. “Most of them know me because I work at Washington School as an office assistant.”
“We come in and they smile,” her son, Jared, added. “It’s just a nice experience.”
In past years, the excitement shown by the 5- and 6-year-olds has made the experience a warm one for her.
“They’re so cute, the little ones,” she said. “I don’t know what parents tell them because we’re not Santa.”
Mitchell Norihiro, 20, of Castaic, has been delivering baskets for three years. His dad is employed with the city of Burbank Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department.
“People were happy to get their stuff,” he said. “The extra stress is taken off them when we bring the food and gifts. All they have to worry about now is preparing the food.”
Norihiro said he doesn’t volunteer every year as a way to get him in the holiday spirit.
“I’ve been in the holiday spirit for two months,” he said. “But there’s nothing wrong with spreading it!”
Looking over the list of recipients, Diel said this year there were between three and nine people per family and three and four generations living together — grandparents, parents, children and their children.
“Some people greeted our drivers crying” out of appreciation, Diel said.
Dave Engel and his wife, Sandy, have been volunteer drivers for more than 10 years.
“Our daughter Tami, who is 16, is volunteering now and her comment was ‘it just feels good to be able to do this,’” Dave Engel said.
After Rosie Ortiz received a basket about 15 years ago, she said she started helping with the delivery. On Saturday, she was making sure there were enough food and gifts for everyone listed on the recipient card.
“I love it!” she said. “My kids grew up doing it and they see the need of the families. They end up appreciating everything we are able to give them now.”
One 16-year-old single mom came by to pick up her basket of food and gifts with her 1-year-old daughter. She said she was raising the child with help from her mother who was in a serious motorcycle accident and hasn’t been able to work.
The teen mom was looking for a job and has tried to apply for food stamps, but was told she had to wait until she turns 18.
“I feel truly blessed that Burbank has a program like this,” she said. “I can’t afford gifts, and I wanted to make sure my daughter had toys to open on Christmas.”