Burbank's Coordinating Council is appealing for more volunteer support and donations as they try to bridge a food basket shortage before Christmas.
Roughly 500 families with children in Burbank schools have applied to receive a holiday basket from the organization, but coordinators this past week were looking at a shortfall of about 100 baskets.
"We usually get donors for about 400 of the baskets, and the rest of them we have to build out of donations and gifts from schools and out in the community," said Coordinating Council President Janet Diel.
The baskets originally contained only enough for Christmas dinner when the program began in 1943, but now they include at least a day's worth of food and sometimes enough to last an entire week. The council also makes sure that every child in the receiving family has a gift.
"We try to make sure we benefit everyone every way we can, but teenagers are the hardest of all," said Diel, who has been involved with the council for the past 24 years. "Almost everyone is willing to buy a stuffed animal, but it's not so easy with teens."
In the past, teenagers have received movie tickets or gift certificates to the local mall or stores like Target.
Diel and others on the council are expecting an influx of applications for baskets within the next two weeks as the distribution date approaches.
The council is also struggling to find volunteers for its Dec. 11 food drive and for basket wrapping and distribution the weekend of Dec. 17.
"It's been harder with the economy and will continue to be harder for so many," Diel said. "We just try to make sure that every family is served."
The organization also works with Burbank Temporary Aid Center, Family Services and Salvation Army to ensure that each family in need receives a single holiday package.
Burbank Temporary Aid Center had more than 225 families signed up, with more enrolling, especially after Thanksgiving, organizers said.
The Coordinating Council receives the majority of its applicants from families that are enrolled in free or reduced lunch programs at Burbank Unified schools.
"We're seeing more and more extended families living together and huge families living in single bedrooms this year," said 15-year volunteer Barbara Sykes. "Families with adult children, grandchildren and grandparents — no one can afford to live on their own."
Sykes is confident that the council will get the volunteers and donations needed to meet the demand.
Volunteers will head out to the local grocery stores on Dec. 11 to ask for donations of food or gift cards for the baskets.
"A lot of it is word of mouth," Sykes said. "People are looking to give during the holiday season."
Longtime airport commissioner Charles Lombardo has donated to the holiday basket program for the past 10 years, but his entire perception changed when he delivered one of the baskets himself.
A child met him in the driveway and led him up to the family's apartment. He remembered walking into the home and the mother saying, "Well now we can afford a Christmas tree."
"The tears were getting in the way at this point, so I took 60 bucks out of my wallet and handed it to them so they could buy a tree," Lombardo said.
He added: "I don't do it for myself, and I wouldn't let them use my name. I'm doing it because it's a great cause, and if we can help, we should — I can and I will."
WHERE TO GET HOLIDAY AID
Burbank Coordinating Council Holiday Baskets
Distribution on Dec. 18
Burbank Temporary Aid Center — Santa's Room
Opens Dec. 9
1304 W. Burbank Blvd.