Making Christmas brighter
by Tracy Press
Dec 02, 2006 | 644 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Christmas wish lists that need to be fulfilled, trees that need to be tinseled and cookies and pies that need to be baked — and then eaten — keep most everyone on the go during the holiday season.

Nancy Cole is no exception.

Each year, she takes time off from her business, Realty World Nanco, and trades in her slacks for a bright green sweatshirt that reads, “Brighter Christmas — Our community caring for those in need.”

“That’s our motto,” she said proudly. “I love to wear it out so people can see it.”

Cole, who sits on Brighter Christmas’ board, represents one of more than 300 local volunteers who work to assure that every Tracy family and senior will have a holiday food basket and gifts.

Brighter Christmas volunteers can be spotted all around town throughout the next month.

They greet West Valley Mall shoppers while working at the Angel Tree, they pick up barrels of canned food from schools and businesses, they visit the homes of Brighter Christmas families, they sort thousands of pounds of food and toys and they perform countless other small acts that make the Christmas season special for everyone in Tracy.

Our Town: What made you want to join the Brighter Christmas effort more than 20 years ago

Nancy Cole: The first year I volunteered for Brighter Christmas was about 1984. I brought along my youngest son, Mike, to help and show him that not everyone was as fortunate as we are.

The program was smaller, and we personally delivered the food and toys to each home.

OT: What brings you back every year

Cole: I come back every year because the need is there and I’m proud of how we handle the whole program. It’s exciting to watch children receive gifts and food that they would not have without Brighter Christmas.

I keep trying to resign, but my heart just won’t let me walk away. Gene Birk, our founder, is my inspiration.

He’s like the Energizer bunny; he just keeps going. He shops all year long for deals on toys, is constantly looking for warehouse space and is always there to help people.

I don’t know anyone else I admire more.

Our core group of directors speaks to the quality of our organization. Lori Sparger, Dorlane Thrasher, Bud Halford, Bill and Deb Hopman, Tom Nuce and Mike Dugan are all leaders and, most of all, dedicated to Brighter Christmas and its excellence.

OT: What’s your most memorable Brighter Christmas experience

Cole: My most memorable experience was in my first year with Brighter Christmas. My son and I went to deliver the food and gifts to an apartment where five or six young children lived. They were huddled on the floor in sleeping bags in the living room to keep warm. There was no heat.

Their eyes lit up when we brought in the food and toys. They were shy, but you could just see the joy in their eyes.

That same year, we also delivered food and gifts to a home that obviously did not need help. That made me mad, and I suggested that we take a good look at who was asking for and receiving help. Thus came the idea of screening the applicants. That has been my main thrust each year.

We visit the homes of most of the applicants and try to determine need, not just for Christmas. Sometimes, we find immediate need of food and clothing, and we take care of it then and there. Many of the folks who screen applicants return to the homes with food, clothing and blankets that same weekend.

OT: The holidays are a busy season. How do you encourage those in the community to help Brighter Christmas’ effort to assure that everyone in the Tracy area has Christmas dinner and presents

Cole: I try to explain to people that we live in a very diverse community and that there are folks living in conditions that no one sees. I encourage them to get involved both physically and financially. More than 99 percent of every dollar received is spent on food and toys. We only need to pay for stamps and some basic printing needs. Everything else is donated and supplied by our wonderful community. I also want everyone to know that we support the seniors with food, too.

OT: What’s Brighter Christmas’ biggest need this year

Cole: Our biggest need this year is to get the word out to the folks who need help. Maybe they are just having a bad year and this is the first time they need help. That’s what we are all about.

It’s very rewarding when someone who has received help in the past returns as a volunteer to help others another time. We depend solely on volunteers, and the high school kids are tremendous. They sort and box food, sort toys, help with deliveries — and especially the time they spend at the Angel Tree at the mall. It takes more than 350 people just at the tree.

OT: Have you convinced the rest of your family to help out

Cole: My family helps out each year. They give of their time and money. My grandchildren have volunteered at the Angel Tree, sorted food and toys and helped with deliveries.

I make sure my sons make donations, since they can’t spare a lot of time. They all know that Mom/Nana is pretty busy all month. They listen attentively to all my stories and encourage me to keep on keeping on.

OT: What’s your favorite Brighter Christmas fundraiser or event in the holiday season

Cole: My favorite fundraiser within in the holiday season is the Hometown Celebration, sponsored by the Tracy Council of Realtors. Bernadette Whisman heads up the program, and each year she and her committee do a spectacular job.

Bernadette started out going screening one year, and after the second home, she returned and said, “This is something I can’t handle.” She then went back to one of the homes, delivering a Christmas tree, ornaments, food and gifts she bought that afternoon. Since then, it has been her mission to raise money for us.

Last year, they raised more than $60,000 in one evening. That money is then spread out into the community, with Brighter Christmas being one of the recipients. I must take the time to say that the Council of Realtors raised more than $95,000 last year and gave it all back to our community. I am very proud to be a part of that segment of our community.

OT: What do you imagine Brighter Christmas will be like in 10 or so years

Cole: My wish is that there is no need for Brighter Christmas in 10 or so years. However, I know that probably won’t happen.

I imagine it will go on and get more efficient and be a viable part of the community then, too.

We have a great crew of helpers and volunteers, and I’m sure that we will be able to hand off the organization to someone from our community who will love it, nurse it and continue with its great tradition.

In the Spotlight is a weekly profile in Our Town. This week’s interviewer was reporter Danielle MacMurchy. To nominate someone to be In the Spotlight or to comment on this week’s column, call 830-4275, or e-mail

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