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February 17, 2010 > Family Giving Tree honors supporters

Family Giving Tree honors supporters

By Steve Wyant
Photos By Steve Wyant

The Family Giving Tree (FGT) held their annual Celebration Luncheon on February 10, 2010 to honor its many donors and volunteers. The luncheon, provided by National Semiconductor at their Santa Clara conference center, celebrated the success of FGT's 20th Holiday Wish Drive.

What began in 1990, as a San Jose State MBA class project for founders Jennifer Cullenbine and Todd Yoshida, has become a unique and highly regarded non-profit organization serving low-income children and families throughout the Bay Area and beyond. Their core services provide specific holiday gift wishes and backpacks filled with school supplies to children and families who have registered with one of the 244 social service agencies or schools with which FGT works.

This past holiday season proved to be challenging; some of those who volunteered in years past suddenly found themselves among the needy. Given the economic downturn, the organization knew there would be fewer donations. However, the season proved more successful than anticipated. FGT fulfilled the wishes of 61,068 children for their 2009 Holiday Wish Drive. This was made possible with the support of 935 host companies, more than 6,000 volunteers (over 1,000 of them under the age of 12), and numerous corporate sponsors.

During the luncheon, FGT recognized and celebrated the accomplishments of their loyal host companies, sponsors, volunteers and staff (known affectionately as "elves"). Despite the recession, many organizations of all sizes increased their tangible and financial contributions significantly. As has been the case for many years, both the Back to School Drive and the Holiday Wish Drive met nearly all volunteer needs within a few days of sign-up.

Besides "Fulfilling Wishes, Changing Lives," FGT's vision and mission also center on inspiring kindness, philanthropy and volunteerism. "Queen Elf" Jennifer Cullenbine is passionate about instilling these values in children at an early age.

"I feel it's critical to present that opportunity to a child and show parents that role modeling really works," she said.

Her father, "Papa Elf" Bob Cullenbine, remarked that she was like that when she was as young as five-years old, not as a result of anything her parents had done specifically but she simply possessed those qualities.

FGT's Holiday Wish Program selects gift recipients who have registered with their social service agencies or schools and have been interviewed to determine their specific needs. Their requests are printed on cards, such as "Sarah, age 6, Barbie Doll," which are distributed to FGT's host companies. They, in turn, provide opportunities for their employees to donate the gifts requested and/or display the cards in public, often on a tree, in their retail locations where customers can donate gifts. Cards and gifts are collected, sorted and distributed to the originating agencies where they are presented to the recipients. The Back to School Drive works in much the same way.

While FGT remains primarily a Bay Area institution, it has established a presence in three other metropolitan centers - Portland (Oregon), Seattle (Washington) and Austin (Texas). The organization has extended its reach through some of their host companies with branches in those locations.

"The host company branches work directly with their local social service agencies to get the gifts to the kids," explained David Bratton-Kearns, the new COE, as in "Chief Operating Elf." "We hope to have people in some of these locations in about four to five years. We'll have staff members who will organize using a cookie-cutter approach to what we're doing here."

The Family Giving Tree
606 Valley Way, Milpitas
(408) 946-3111

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