Christmas Bureau brings joy to poor local families

Members of the Christmas Bureau's board meet in a home to write checks. Photo from the Christmas Bureau's website.

Daily Post Staff Writer

For the 64th season, Palo Alto’s poorest families will get a little extra holiday cheer next month thanks to the Christmas Bureau of Palo Alto.

The nonprofit started in 1955, when Palo Alto school nurses started collecting toys, gifts and food to give to poor families in the district.
Since then, the group started collecting financial donations so that recipients could choose for themselves how they spend their money. The program has also been expanded to include single people and couples.

Today, the group is operated by a 17-member board of volunteers and only spends 2% of its donations on overhead costs, such as postage stamps and mailers.

The group accepts referrals throughout the year and raises funds until early December, when volunteers divide up the funds evenly based on household size, write the checks and mail them.

To date, the group has raised about $62,000 and is hoping to nearly double that in the next two weeks. In 2014, the group surpassed its longtime goal of $100,000, so it has since increased the goal.

Last year, the organization wrote checks to 1,500 households, serving 3,622 individuals.

‘I feel like a rich woman’

M.J. Alvarez, a single mother of five who works in retail and lives in subsidized housing in Palo Alto, said that last year she got about $175 for her and her three younger kids, who are between the ages of 6 and 13.

“This was a lot of money to me,” Alvarez said. “I feel like a rich woman when I get this money.”

She brought her kids to the store to buy new shoes and rain jackets, Alvarez said. Because her family is used to being thrifty, $175 went a long way.

Alvarez has lived in Palo Alto for more than 30 years and said that when she was first referred to the program, she thought she might get a check for $10 or $15.

At the time, she was so poor she had “not even $3 in my pocket,” Alvarez said.

When the check arrived and she saw how much money it was, she cried.

“I feel like crying right now because this is really helping us,” Alvarez said. “My kids are going to start getting happy and excited.”

Christmas Bureau Vice President Valerie Glassford got involved with the organization in the late 1990s, when she was a property manager for Palo Alto Housing and was asked to refer eligible families.

She said the letters the group receives from recipients highlight how much need there is.

“A lady a couple of years ago who was a crossing guard said she’d been able to buy a pair of warm boots,” Glassford said. “I remember four or five years ago an individual saying that she’d been able to buy new tires for her wheelchair.”

Other recipients used the money to make a call to family on the East Coast or buy her son his first brand-new bike.

Who is eligible for money?

The Christmas Bureau provides checks to individuals, couples and families making less than 30% of the median income in Santa Clara County, which this year is $27,930 for a single person and $39,900 for a family of four.

Recipients must be referred through a house of worship or a social service or public agency, such as Palo Alto Housing, the Palo Alto school district, the Downtown Streets Team or Lytton Gardens Senior Community. Those who live in Palo Alto or have children who attend Palo Alto public schools are eligible. Donations can be made at or by mailing a check to the Christmas Bureau of Palo Alto at P.O. Box 51874, Palo Alto, CA 94303. The group continues accepting checks after mid-December — that provides a boost for next year.