Berkeley Holiday Fund sends over 1,000 checks to Berkeley residents

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Linda Williams/Courtesy

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The Berkeley Holiday Fund mailed checks to over 1,000 individuals and families in need last week as part of its annual holiday donation drive. This year, it raised over $75,000 according to Andrew Williams, co-chair of Berkeley Holiday Fund.

Roughly 5,000 letters were sent to Berkeley residents this year, asking for $25 to $1,000 donations. The money fundraised is what makes the donations possible, according to Williams.

“One homeless woman was able to rent a room for Christmas Eve so she got off the street for a while,” according to Williams, when referencing the impact of the organization.

Since 1912, the Berkeley Holiday Fund has offered Berkeley residents a way to brighten the holidays for fellow citizens. The organization, once known as the Berkeley Christmas Committee, donated Christmas gifts to ensure that no children were left without them.

To acknowledge the diversity of the Berkeley population, the committee has since changed its name to Berkeley Holiday Fund, and is now a nonprofit that distributes donations through checks to those in need. The organization has no office or paid staff, just a board of enthusiastic volunteers, according to Williams.

The modest amounts won’t change anyone’s entire life, according to Williams, who said that while small, the fund makes “a little brighter, a little better— this holiday season.”

The fund partners with 32 social service agencies, including local senior centers which identify recipients and distribute the donations. It is also supported by the city and Mayor Jesse Arreguín, who covers the cost of first-class postage for the checks, and acts as an honorary chair. Mechanics Bank cashes the checks free of charge for recipients.

The fund works with agencies which identify clients who receive $45 to $200, along with “all the people that do good work in Berkeley with people who need help,” according to Williams.

The Multicultural Institute, a partner agency that works with local immigrant communities, received two checks from the Berkeley Holiday Fund, according to Josue Revolorio, director of the Multicultural Institute Day Laborer Program. Recipients with unsteady jobs were “very grateful,” especially when the recipients didn’t expect them, Revolorio said.

Recipients were chosen “based out on the daily outreach that is done on the street,” according to Mirna Cervantes, associate director of the Multicultural Institute.

Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency, or BOSS, a local nonprofit that provides homeless shelters and services, received about 55 checks according to Gwen Austin, community builder at BOSS. Austin mentioned that recipients who live on fixed income and monthly checks were especially happy.

“This is a godsend.  Wonderful thank yous behind receiving these checks.  They’re overwhelmed,” said Austin about recipients, who “don’t even know they’re getting the money…and they get a check.”

Contact Sarah Chung at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sarahchungdc.