‘Neighbors helping neighbors’: Berkeley organizations help during holidays

Photo of the Berkeley Police Department toy drive in 2020
Veronica Rodrigues/Courtesy
Several city organizations — including the Berkeley Food Pantry, Dorothy Day House, Berkeley Police Department and the Berkeley Holiday Fund — are working on assisting individuals in need amid the holiday season.

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Institutions from around the city of Berkeley are providing assistance to those in need this holiday season — filling hearts, minds and stomachs.

The Berkeley Food Pantry, one such organization, is distributing holiday foods including turkey legs and hams to Berkeley and Albany households, according to Berkeley Food Pantry director Dharma Galang. The holiday program is made possible by a grant from the East Bay Times-sponsored Share the Spirit campaign, to which the pantry has applied for at least the last decade, she noted.

“It’s been an incredibly stressful time,” Galang said. “(We’re) attempting to provide good service and bring that stress level down so they know if they have an emergency, there’s a place they can go and they don’t have to worry.”

Challenges to the pantry include a rise in food prices, a decrease in holiday donations from last year and the ever-busy nature of the holiday season, Galang added. Individuals who want to assist the food pantry should donate money or shelf-stable holiday-themed foods, she noted.

Meanwhile, at the Dorothy Day House, organizers are planning a community holiday lunch to celebrate the unhoused people that the organization serves, according to director of development and marketing Brittany Hotaling.

“In many instances, people struggling or (who) have found themselves facing homelessness do not have anyone in their family to turn to,” Hotaling said in an email. “Dorothy Day House employees and volunteers are that family and community to so many who are in need.”

The lunch is the first of its kind hosted by the Dorothy Day House and will occur Dec. 19, Hotaling added.

Berkeley Police Department is also helping those in need this month. According to Lt. Veronica Rodrigues, who supervises BPD’s Community Services Bureau, the department is hosting a toy drive to benefit the Berkeley Junior Jacket Football and Cheer program and Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency, which assist underprivileged and unhoused families in the city.

“Every police officer got into this profession to help people,” Rodrigues said in an email. “This program is an opportunity for us to truly help in a significantly beneficial and impactful way.”

The program started in November 2020 following past difficulties in participating in Toys for Tots, according to Rodrigues. They are seeking new, unwrapped toys appropriate for children ages 4 to 16 before their last donation date Dec. 16, she said.

Also in the gift-giving spirit, the Berkeley Holiday Fund is preparing to send out 1,144 “modest” checks — approximately $130 on average — to individuals and families in need, according to fund co-chair Andrew Williams. While Williams acknowledged the checks would not be life-changing, he said they make “an individual’s life a little better” this time of year.

The century-old charity partners with 29 social service agencies to identify the check recipients, Williams noted. This year’s donations have largely come from approximately 450 individual donors, he added.

“It’s really neighbors helping neighbors here in Berkeley,” Williams said. “We’re letting our fellow citizens know we care about them — we’re here for them.”

Contact Gabe Classon at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @GabeClasson.