From The Weekly Calistogan: Sharing the Spirit: Local nonprofits bring holiday cheer to hard hit Upvalley households

November 29, 2019, UpValley Family Centers

Estela’s three kids get excited when the holidays roll around. They may be too old for Santa Claus by now, but they’re looking forward to having the whole family home for Christmas – and they’re hopeful that they might find a gift or two under the tree.

Estela, on the other hand, gets anxious around this time of year. She works as a housekeeper at a local resort, but every December her hours get cut – because once harvest winds down, tourism does, too.

She struggles financially as it is. She’s a single mom who got herself and her kids out of an unhealthy relationship a few years ago, and now she’s got a child in college. She’s proud that she can provide for them all. But with the regular downturn in work and income at this time of year, she’s never sure how she’ll manage to pay her usual bills in December and January – let alone how to get each of her kids a Christmas present.

And Estela is not alone. As the vineyards turn to seas of orange and yellow, lots of agriculture and hospitality workers lose shifts, or lose their jobs altogether, leaving the households who rely on their income to face stark financial insecurity until the work begins to pick up again in the spring.

But every year our community rises to the occasion, working together to make sure that every local family gets to enjoy a warm, bright, and comfortable holiday season. A county-wide Holiday Assistance Coalition of nonprofits, for example, comes together to provide lower-income households with a box full of groceries and gifts for every child. In partnership with organizations like the Salvation Army, the Napa Valley Food Bank, Toys for Tots, St. Vincent de Paul, Grace Church, and several others, UpValley Family Centers helps to coordinate this program for St. Helena and Calistoga. People, businesses, and service clubs from all over our community – like the Calistoga Community Chest and Cal Mart – contribute to this effort: they participate in toy drives, donate grocery items, or make financial gifts that help the coalition members do their work.

It all culminates in a pair of festive distribution and delivery days – one in each community – where volunteers from all walks of life join us to provide over 400 Upvalley families and seniors with a holiday package of groceries and gifts, so they can create a magical holiday experience in their homes.

Beyond this county-wide Holiday Assistance coalition, families and businesses also support households in their community more directly. They come together at their church or school, or they reach out directly to the UpValley Family Centers, to “sponsor” one or more local families. Estela received this kind of support last year: A sponsor provided her with gift cards and a few Christmas presents for her children. She still remembers the relief she felt – knowing that, however small her December paycheck would turn out to be, she’d be able to provide a magical Christmas for her kids.

Of course it’s not only during the holiday months that financial struggles pop up. A medical emergency, or a job loss, can happen at any time of year. That’s why these holiday-season assistance programs are part of a year-round network of resources that are here to support households whenever they’re facing a crisis. Some of these resources are earmarked specifically to support people in case of a natural disaster or related emergency: This fall, for example, UpValley Family Centers and other family resource centers in the county distributed hundreds of gift cards, provided by the Napa Valley Community Foundation, to help households replace spoiled food or cover evacuation expenses amidst the preventive power outages and the threat of the Kincade Fire. Other resources are there year-round to help cover rent, utility payments, and other expenses when families are facing a crisis.

Anyone can be presented with a financial crisis at some point in their lives, and the UpValley Family Centers are proud to be part of this strong network of resources that allows local households to take comfort in knowing they have a partner to rely on when they face difficulty.

Families or seniors interested in receiving Holiday Assistance can still sign up for the program through Friday, Dec. 6 – please reach out to the UpValley Family Centers at (707) 965-5010 to learn more about eligibility and registration. And if you’re interested in getting involved with or supporting the UpValley Family Centers Holiday and Emergency Assistance programs, please reach out to Charlotte Hajer at chajer@upvalleyfamilycenters.org or (707) 965-5010, ext. 305.

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