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January 20, 2010 > Pizza with Santa - A Tri-City Tradition

Pizza with Santa - A Tri-City Tradition

By Denny Stein

Christmas is over, the New Year has begun, yet my guess is that not everyone has sent out thank you notes. In our community, there are many individuals, businesses and organizations that take an extra step at this time of year. The Niles (Fremont) Rotary Club, a regular participant in the Centerville Free Dining Room and Abode Services Family Winter Relief programs, pulls its forces together in December to make Christmas just a little better for our cities' homeless children and parents. On December 19, 2009, the 10 families enrolled in the Winter Relief Program gathered at Centerville Presbyterian Church for entertainment, hot pizza, a visit from Santa Claus, and gifts.

The church hall is festively decorated, by Rotarian volunteers, with Christmas lights, winter figures, reindeer and a sleigh. Seasonal music plays, and folks with red elf hats mill about. There are tables set with craft supplies so that each family can decorate its own picture frame, in anticipation of having their photo taken with Santa. For most of these families, this is the only picture that will capture them all together until next year. With glue and glitter, ribbons, paints and stickers at hand, grown-ups and children often discover talents they hadn't enjoyed before. One young woman exhibits beautiful script, and others clamor for her to paint their names on the frames. Gifts come in many guises.

Outside, there are horse rides to be had, often a first for everyone involved. Astride the horses tall men cling to the saddle, babies hug their moms, pre-teen girls look nervous yet ecstatic, and boys . . . well boys will be boys. In the backyard a huge jump house and inflated slide evoke intense bouncing and giggles.

Rose Evernden-Andrade, the Niles Rotarian yearly organizer of this event, sports a tee-shirt that says Mele Kalikimaka, Merry Christmas in Hawaiian. The greeting reflects the diversity of Fremont mirrored in the family recipients. No one has yet cornered the market on hard times, and in today's economic climate we are all susceptible. Those who can give are grateful for that ability, and give generously. This year Santa's Pizza was made possible by a generous discount from Pizza Italia of Fremont and Bay Area Jumps inflatable at a low cost. Tom Bryan, of Red Wolf Productions, blessed with a natural Santa physique, elicited excited hopping and grinning at his entrance in full North Pole regalia.

The Winter Relief Program provides shelter and meals to families who would otherwise be in Abode Services Sunrise Village Emergency Shelter, if there were room. During these cold months, though, six area churches provide overnight shelter, showers, breakfast, and a bag lunch, while the Free Dining Room offers dinners. But it's Christmas - children need a few bright things just for fun, and everyone appreciates warm clothing, and replacements for worn-out necessities.

The Niles Rotary Club raised $3000 this year, and Judy Zlatnik, a dedicated Fremont volunteer, did "one week of non-stop shopping" (all in Fremont stores) to check-off the wish lists with Santa's bounty. At the end of the party, each family sat surrounded by new socks, scarves, warm jackets and gloves, highlighted with toys, red trucks, Robot Godzillas, Space Police Legos, or a Tickle Me Elmo. One would like to say that there was joy and peace amongst our families, but poverty and homelessness is wearing and discouraging. For these folks there was relief and a respite from their daily existence.

It is the volunteers and gift-givers who were grateful to be able to provide. So Thank You for all the help and donations:

Bay Area Jumps
Pizza Italia
Central Presbyterian Church
Judy Zlatnik
Big O Tires of Fremont
The Horse People: Daren & Sandy Young, Gary Robinson, and Bob Hagg.
Niles (Fremont) Rotary Club members and their families

P.S. Niles (Fremont) Rotary will be hosting its Annual Elimination Raffle Fundraiser on March 27, 2010. Buy a ticket - Save the date

And a Happy New Year to everyone.

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