Her patience meant that the 33-year-old’s family would get signed up for help through Brighter Christmas, the annual charity drive that distributes toys and food to Tracy residents in need.
Without the assistance, Guerrero, her two daughters and husband — who was busy at his first day of full-time work in about a year — would likely have gone without presents this holiday season.
Guerrero, who was standing in line holding the hand of her 4-year-old daughter, Miranda, said it’s the third year she has signed up for the program.
“We haven’t had money to buy Christmas presents,” she said. “That way, they at least have a Christmas.”
For 35 years, Brighter Christmas has tried to make the annual gift-giving holiday merrier, said Gene Birk, the charity’s former director and a current volunteer.
The 77-year-old was among those at the community center, 950 East St., on Friday morning, ushering people out of the rain during the first of two days of sign-ups.
In 2011, Birk said Brighter Christmas helped about 975 families, a record. He was afraid that a new high mark would be set this winter.
“I’d love to be wrong,” he said. “We were scared to death we were going to hit 1,000.”
Through 10 a.m. Friday, he said it looked as though demand was slightly down from the year before. But Birk won’t know exactly how many people sought help until registration for the food and toy baskets ends at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17.
Sign-ups began at 9 a.m. Friday. Matt Palomino, in his 14th year as a Brighter Christmas volunteer, said between 75 and 100 people were lined up when he arrived at 7:45 a.m., despite intermittent rain showers.
“There’s usually more,” he said.
But by 9:30 a.m., Palomino said the crowd had picked up.
Crystal Lino and her 4-year-old son, Isaiah, were among those waiting in line.
The 24-year-old mother of two said she wanted to sign up her entire household, which includes two sisters and her other son, 7-year-old Nathaniel.
Lino, who said she works part-time at the Manteca Hampton Inn, said it’s the first time she’s registered for Brighter Christmas. She hoped the assistance would let her “worry about daily life instead of Christmas.”
“I know economic times are hard,” she said. “You gotta do what you gotta do. Everybody deserves some help.”
Prospective registrants were sorted into two groups — English-speakers and Spanish-speakers — and sent to volunteers who interviewed them. Birk said it’s the first time he’s seen the line for English-speakers stretch farther.
“It’s never, ever been like that,” he said. “I never thought I’d see a first after all these years.”
Before the Dec. 23 distribution date for food and toys, Brighter Christmas volunteers will visit the households of applicants to ensure they need the assistance. Birk also said the charity will check its list with that of Tracy Interfaith Ministries, a local nonprofit that also gives away food and toys during the holiday season.
He said the goal is to prevent people from getting a double donation and possibly forcing another family to go without.
But Birk, who said he grew up without Christmas toys himself, said he’s dedicated to making things better for those who really need help.
“The ones that need it — I want to be the first in line to help them,” he said.
• Contact Jon Mendelson at 830-4231 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
At a glance
WHAT: Brighter Christmas sign-ups
WHEN: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16, and Saturday, Nov. 17
WHERE: Tracy Community Center, 950 East St.
DETAILS: People seeking help are required to provide proof of income, verification of children’s birth and ages, proof of rent or mortgage and a current bill from Pacific Gas and Electric Co, and are interviewed by a volunteer.