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The Reason for the Season

Tips on where, how and when to give during the holidays.

As Christmas approaches, and the need deepens for Redwood City's less fortunate residents, a dizzying array of community services ramp up their efforts in and around the city.

This leaves the more fortunate residents with a bit of a conundrum: With so many options to sift through, how do they know where, and to whom, to give? In fact, even the needy don't always know where to get a meal or find presents for their children – and when they do, they sometimes discover that too many other people got there first.

That's why Patch is presenting this list of some of our favorite holiday charitable programs in Redwood City. Here's a starting point for those who know the true reason for the season.

1. Redwood City Police and Fire Toy Drive

Its full name – the Redwood City PAL, Police and Firefighters Associations' Christmas Toy and Book Drive – says a lot about what this important program does, and who leads it.

Organized in conjunction with the rank-and-file unions of both departments and the Police Activities League – with help along the way from the city's , numerous local businesses and hundreds of volunteers and donors – this yearly gift-giving event guarantees that as many as 600 local families are able to provide presents for their children.

According to Officer Dan Smith, who helps organize the drive, police and firefighters receive gifts all year long and stow them away for children in need. Many go to kids as the need arises – fire victims, for example, or patients at the Lucille Packard Children's Hospital – but many more are saved up for the holidays.

"It's a year-round program, this just caps it," Smith said.

This year's Christmas gifts – several thousand in all, including books, games, puzzles and toys – are already collected and stashed at a Redwood City warehouse that organizers call "Toyland." Now comes the final push.

How to help: Residents already helped wrap presents on Monday at the , but donations to the program can be made at the Milagros party tonight at 5:30pm – or all year long by bringing unwrapped, unused gifts to any of the city's 12 fire stations or to the police station at 1301 Maple Street. Cash donations are also accepted. For more information, visit www.rwctoydrive.com.

2. Food for Fines

Part of a partnership between the San Mateo County Library and Second Harvest Food Bank, this program offers residents with overdue library books a chance to make good on their accounts – and in their communities.

Through Dec. 30, residents facing fines for overdue books can "clear the books" by donating food to Second Harvest, a food bank based in San Carlos which serves the hungry throughout the Peninsula.

"Anyone with outstanding library fines is invited to deliver nonperishable food items to any Redwood City library (or to any of the San Mateo County Library's twelve branches) during regular business hours," notes Redwood City website. "The higher the amount of someone's unpaid fines, the more food they should donate! They'll leave the library with a cleared account (up to $100 in fines may be forgiven), and the great feeling of having helped others as the holidays approach."

So for once, the later you are the better!

How to help: Bring nonperishable food to any before the end of the year and deliver to library staff. (For those on good standing with the library, donations may also be made directly to Second Harvest Food Bank.) For more information, visit www.redwoodcity.org/manager/news/2010/pr_lib_food_4_fines.html or www.shfb.org.

3.

Didn't get your tree yet? Good! As with the library books, sometimes it pays to procrastinate.

Honey Bear Trees was started by an Oregonian beekeeper 40 years ago, who began growing Christmas trees and giving away a bear-shaped bottle of honey to go with them. Today the business has evolved with a charitable theme: 15 percent of the proceeds for every tree sold go to the school of your choice.

So, Sequoia parents who buy, say, a Douglas fir for $100 can donate $15 of that to Sequoia High School.

How to help: Just buy a tree from Honey Bear Trees, located at 955 Woodside Road, Redwood City. For more information, see www.honeybeartrees.com/pages/fundraising.

4.

Don't knock it: The Salvation Army's yearly red kettle campaign – those people in Santa hats with their ubiquitous bells – raised $139 million for the needy last year alone. It's a time-honored tradition, and an effective one.

How to help: "Put a nickel in the drum," as the song goes. Or shop at the Salvation Army thrift store, located at 60 Veterans Blvd. Donations can also be made online by going to https://secure20.salvationarmy.org. For more information, call (650) 368-4642.

5.

This well-regarded charity helps thousands of San Mateo County residents every year, including those at the Free Clinic of Redwood City, where locals in need are provided free medical and dental care.

The local Free Clinic is located at 114 Fifth Ave.; to set up an appointment, call 650-839-1447.

How to help: Samaritan House organizers are requesting blankets, food, medical supplies, office supplies, toiletries and gifts. To learn how to donate, or about the many ways to volunteer, visit www.samaritanhouse.com or call 650-347-3648. For more on holiday programs, go to www.samaritanhouse.com/new/programs/holiday.shtml.

6. St. Francis Center

This crucial organization – providing housing, food, clothing, education and other services to "over 3,000 individuals, each month, in the Redwood City area" – was founded a quarter century ago with the intention of help families in need. When it comes to helping your neighbor, you can't do better than the St. Francis Center.

That's especially true during the holidays, when the Center holds a toy drive for the benefit of hundreds of local families.

How to help: Donations or volunteering help are gladly accepted by St. Francis Center. To learn how to help out, swing by 151 Buckingham Ave. between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday to Friday, call 650-365-7829 or email info@stfrancisrwc.org.

7. Companions for the Soul

This nonprofit works to improve the lives of people in need – children, seniors, military veterans and others – through animal-assisted therapy. And this month local high school students will be dancing for the cause.

"It's a 'Dance-Off' dancing competition for high school dance teams, as a fundraiser for the group," wrote city spokesperson Malcolm Smith. "This event takes place on Friday, Dec. 17 starting at 8 p.m., at the Fox Theatre in downtown Redwood City. After the competition, there'll be a performance by rock band Tempting Fate – so it's a great evening of fun, dancing, friendly (but fierce) competition, and rock n' roll!

"Competing this year are Woodside High School, Carlmont High School, San Mateo High School, Menlo Atherton High School, and Sir Francis Drake High School."

How to help: Tickets are $15, $18 at the door and can be purchased by visiting www.highschooldanceoff.com or calling 650-369-7770. Or reach the group directly at www.companionsforthesoul.org.

OTHER RESOURCES:

* St. Anthony's: Few charities feed the hungry better than St. Anthony's Padua Dining Room, which serves up to 600 hot meals a day, six days a week, all year long. Located at 3500 Middlefield Road. Call 650-365-9664 or visit www.paduadiningroom.com to learn how to donate or help out.

* : located at 1580-A Maple Street. Drop by with some blankets or send a donation. For more info, call 650-364-1150 or visit www.shelternetwork.org/participate/holiday.php.

* Goodwill: the famous charitable thrift store, located at 46 Fifth Ave. A perfect place to finish up your Christmas shopping.

* CHiPs for Kids: a holiday toy and food drive by the California Highway Patrol. Drop off a canned good or unwrapped toy between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 355 Convention Way. Call 650-369-6261 for info.

* For even more opportunities to give, visit www.redwoodcity.org/parks/giveback.html.

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