Holiday hopes brightened on rainy day
by Jon Mendelson
Nov 16, 2012 | 4077 views | 8 8 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Brighter Christmas registration
Rowena Guerrero talks with volunteer Mike McLellan, who helped sign up the 33-year-old and her daughter, 4-year-old Miranda, for Brighter Christmas assistance Friday, Nov. 16. Jon Mendelson/Tracy Press
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Tracy resident Rowena Guerrero didn’t mind a brief wait in the rain outside of the Tracy Community Center on Friday, Nov. 16.

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

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.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
November 18, 2012
Fallacy … and your post contains several … Brighter Christmas, Tracy Interfaith Ministries, McHenry House and other caring groups are very aware of their limited resources and the need to be good caretakers of those resources. By what you have written it is obvious that you do not volunteer serving others in this community. One hour at any of the agencies would show you that the SUV driving, Nike wearing folks can very well be engineers or real estate people who have been laid off. Or, they may have purchased two flat screen TV’s before they got cancer and went on disability. When the divorcé was final, mom got custody of the Lexus and dad got custody of the bank account. Some go without to keep their iPhone so they can check on their applications for a job. While there are some who will try to con helpful people, charitable folks are really smarter than you could imagine. Your comment indicates a lack of experience. Come down to TIM, volunteer and see for yourself.
November 18, 2012
Bravo, dd95376. A person can lose their job instantly due to the wonderful economy we have, family relationships break, etc. Nothing in life is secure. My wish is for people to keep others in the mind throughout the year and not only on holidays: Give, help &/or support. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
November 17, 2012
Hi for good present for Holiday you can find in our web site
November 18, 2012
"I wish we had a way to report spam on here...."

You to already. From the bottom of this window, "Readers may report inappropriate comments by e-mailing the editor at"

Wish granted. :)

November 16, 2012

...could we consider improving the validation process for folks who wish to receive food and gifts from Brighter Christmas and similar programs? Its seems as if there is an increasing number of folks applying for and benefiting from these programs who aren't so poor after all when they're seen driving full size SUVs, using iphones, wearing $150 Nike shoes, and having multiple big screen TVs in their homes. Its interesting that, as most of us are interested in protecting our freedom, dignity, and livelihood through hard work and education, an increasing number of people are interested in protecting their access to free stuff from others while not making any effort to help provide for themselves and their kids. Lets preserve and maintain these great programs for folks who really need the help

November 18, 2012
If anyone is concerned that the recepients are not deserving we would appreciate your help screening them on Saturday, December 1st. Please meet us at the Community Center on that day at 9:00 a.m. We will visit the homes of those who have applied to confirm they are truly in need. For more information please visit our web site at for more opportunities to serve. Thank you Steve Abercrombie - Chairperson for Brighter Christmas

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