In all of Gene Birk’s 29 years of fundraising for Brighter Christmas, he’s never seen fewer donations at this point in the year. The economy has hit the annual Brighter Christmas fundraiser Birk chairs, and he said he’ll be hard-pressed to maintain last year’s $48,000 budget for food and toys.
"This has been the hardest year to date," Birk said of raising money and gathering food. "I’m scared I’m not going to have enough food, toys and donations."
Birk expects more people than in years past to sign up for food baskets and toys on Monday and Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Tracy Community Center. Over the years, hundreds have wrapped around the center and waited to apply for food and gifts.
The screening consists of a questionnaire that asks for size and income of families.
"We want to take care of every family that needs help in the Tracy Unified School District area," Birk said. "But you’re going to have to prove to us that you’re needy. There’s a lot of crooks out there that will take advantage of this."
Birk said that many of the people who sign up are single mothers or even grandparents who are raising grandchildren, and he wants to make sure it’s the truly needy who get packages.
A "jail and bail" fundraiser set for Dec. 10 will try to raise a bulk of the money to pay for the packages.
Displays like the Angel Tree project also help lift some of the burden off Brighter Christmas by allowing folks to donate toys to children who have an angel hanging off a Christmas tree at the West Valley Mall.
Even with the depressed donation total so far, Birk said that he hopes to give toys to 1,800 this Christmas and food to 750 families.
"I want to help every kid at Christmas that is not going to get toys," Birk said. "I’m just delighted to be able to do this year after year."