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December 4, 2012 > Adopt-A-Family makes spirits bright

Adopt-A-Family makes spirits bright

By Julie Grabowski

The heart of the holidays is in giving to others, and each Christmas, Volunteer Hayward does its part to help to make the season bright for local families in need.

Volunteer Hayward was created in 1996 by Donna Fitzwater with the Hayward Area Recreation and Park District (HARD), Hayward Unified School District, and the City of Hayward in order to organize volunteers to build a better community and help those in need. Its accomplishments include the Youth Enrichment Program, Annual Coat Drive, Stuff the Bus, Kaboom! Playground Build, Prom Possible, Week of Caring, Hayward Clean-Up, and Adopt-A-Family.

On December 15, the Adopt-A-Family program celebrates its 15th year of caring for families in need with a full-day event at the Hayward Senior Center. Families will be treated to breakfast, photos with Santa, gift rooms, and warm coats. Kids will get a mad 20-second dash in the toy room to choose the toys they want, then visit Miss Donna's room to pick out a gift for their parents. The room is named for Donna Fitzwater who was the first Volunteer Hayward Coordinator and served for 15 years before passing away last year. Her heart, dedication, and hard work touched many and made the program what it is today. A coat drive runs in conjunction with the event, giving parents the opportunity to pick out warm coats for their family.

The Hayward Police Department, City resources department, school district, and HARD nominate families living in Hayward, Castro Valley, and San Lorenzo, as well as the unincorporated districts of Ashland, Cherryland, and Fairview. Those selected are paired with corporate sponsors or private donors who receive a wish list in order to shop for the family. Donors don't know any personal information about the families beyond the name and items on their list, and families have no idea about the extent of the event that awaits them. 43 families were served last year and 52 families have been adopted so far for this season.

"When they're coming here they don't expect all this to happen for them," says Volunteer Coordinator Zack Ebadi. With all the consumerism that comes along with the holiday, he feels that the Adopt-A-Family event is "truly Christmas," a chance to give back to the community. Ebadi also praised the efforts of the Target store on A Street, whose employees were "extremely helpful" and made their shopping budget work in purchasing gifts for the families.

Accomplished 100 percent by donations, Volunteer Hayward was able to expand their Adopt-A-Family outreach this year, thanks to a Share the Spirit grant and facilitated through The Volunteer Center of the East Bay. The grant made it possible to partner with The Kids' Breakfast Club and cook a fresh breakfast for families on the morning of the event, as well as provide gifts, and adopt extra families. Due to the additional funds, Volunteer Hayward was able to adopt 12 families through the Family Emergency Shelter Coalition (FESCO).

FESCO families will have the party brought to them on December 21, where they will have the opportunity to pick out gifts and coats, and goods will be provided to cook the families breakfast on Christmas Day.

Any toys left over from the Adopt-A-Family event will be donated to the holiday party for families in need put on by the Alameda County Sheriff's Office COPPShop at the Ashland Community Center on December 19.

Those wishing to help families this holiday season can donate new or gently used coats and new, unwrapped toys. Donations can be dropped off at the Pleasanton Fairgrounds on December 12 from noon to 4 p.m. and December 13 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and at the Hayward Senior Center on December 14 from noon to 8 p.m. Monetary donations are also welcomed. Checks can be made out to Volunteer Hayward and mailed c/o HARD Administration Office, 1099 E. Street, Hayward, CA 94541. Any funds that come in after the event will be used for next year.

Those interested in volunteering can visit and click on the Volunteer tab, or e-mail Volunteer Coordinator Zack Ebadi at for more information. To find volunteer opportunities throughout Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, call The Volunteer Center of the East Bay at (925) 472-5760 or visit them online at

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