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A spirit of generosity is in the air

Berkeley faculty and staff get behind good causes for the holidays

| 23 December 2008

The worsening financial crisis makes getting into the holiday spirit a little harder this year. At UC Berkeley, however, faculty and staff are looking beyond the headlines, doing what they can to make other people's celebrations a little brighter.

Tang Center staff with holiday collectionUHS staff Dee Meesai (left) and Kim Lapean coordinated the Tang Center's holiday collection for homeless youth. (Wendy Edelstein/UC Berkeley)
For more than 15 years, the campus's Black Faculty and Staff Organization (BSFO) has collected toys for disadvantaged youth who are served by social-service agencies throughout Alameda and Contra Costa counties. The annual toy drive for the kids, who range in age from 2 to 14, culminates with a party featuring professional entertainment and a chance to have a photo taken with Santa.

The UC Police Department, a longtime donor to this effort, underwrites the cost of the Polaroids, and this year, staff from the campus Financial Aid office anteed up $300 to cover the cost of entertainment. "We beg for a lot of stuff," says Renita Esclovon, senior buyer in Business Services, who organized the event this year; she emphasizes that the party couldn't happen without donations and volunteer support.

BSFO chair Faith LeBlue, who works in Labor Relations within Human Resources, says that what makes the annual effort worthwhile is "to see kids that don't have much go home with big gifts they can barely carry. We're giving to the community that surrounds this university."

The desire to help out local folk during the economic downturn spurred University Health Services (UHS) "to do something more meaningful this year," says Kim Lapean, the Tang Center's communications manager. UHS chose to help Youth Emergency Assistance Hostel (YEAH!), a local shelter for homeless youth.

The age range (18 to 25) of the population that YEAH! serves is similar to that of Berkeley's students, notes Lapean, but "the [hostel's] residents are homeless and likely to get less attention this time of year than smaller children or families." Because YEAH! accepts donations of used items, UHS staff were able to give even if they couldn't afford to purchase something new. This year's UHS holiday drive, says Lapean, was one of its most successful: Tang Center staff collected four barrels approximately 140 gallons of clothes, toiletries, and pet food, as well as more than $220 in cash for YEAH!

The assistants to the campus's executive-leadership team added a food-and-toy drive to this year's Administration Holiday Luncheon, an annual event sponsored by Vice Chancellor for Administration Nathan Brostrom. "We've collected toys and food in the past, but this year everyone was particularly concerned about people who have lost their homes and jobs," says Glenda Waugh, one of the event's organizers and assistant to the director of Parking and Transportation. Their collection netted three barrels of food for the Alameda County Community Food Bank and four boxes of playthings for the Marine Corps' Toys for Tots program.

The county food bank is also the charity of choice for many in the College of Letters and Science. In the Deans' Office, the office of the Undergraduate Division, and the Office of Undergraduate Advising, staff have already filled a barrel with non-perishable food. Also pitching in is the Department of Nutritional Science and Toxicology in the College of Natural Resources, which raised $94 for the Alameda County food bank at its holiday party.

The same beneficiary is the every-day-is-Christmas focus of another campus effort. In addition to collecting for Toys for Tots during the holidays, staff and faculty in Molecular and Cell Biology have set up bins in the department's four locations where donations to the county food bank can be left throughout the year.

Happier holidays for kids

Numerous schools and units made children the explicit focus of their giving. The year-end contributions made by Berkeley's University Relations (UREL) staff to the Center for Child Protection at Children's Hospital and Research Center Oakland (CCP) provide benefits year 'round to young sufferers from abuse. Previous contributions from UREL helped CCP purchase matching T-shirts for its summer day camp and supplies for a therapeutic garden. Last year UREL collected more than it had ever before its $5,000 donation enabled CCP to expand its therapy milieu by landscaping and purchasing garden furniture for a previously neglected outdoor courtyard.

"University Relations' contribution seeps into every part of our program," says CCP manager Shelley Hamilton. UREL's annual collection helps support the hospital's medical services, emergency department, outpatient sexual-assault clinic, and therapy program, says Hamilton.

This year the Graduate Division, American Indian Graduate Program, and Graduate Diversity Program partnered on behalf of foster children through the Indigenous Nations Child and Family Agency, a nonprofit that provides advocacy and placement for Native children, as well as child-abuse and domestic-violence prevention programs, counseling services, and family reunification support. Donations filled five copy-paper cartons and several bags, and included 10 winter coats, children's books, art kits, games, and $100 in cash (likely to be used for gifts for the children).

Tonyville residents sort through donationsResidents of Tonyville, a community in California's Central Valley, sort through donations they received for the holidays. The Graduate School of Journalism faculty and staff helped out with contributions of books and toys. (Ken Light/UC Berkeley)
The staff and faculty at the Graduate School of Journalism collected gifts for a community a little further afield. Ken Light, director of the J-School's Center for Photography, has been taking photos in California's Central Valley for several years. On a recent shoot, Light learned that community members were organizing a Posada, a nine-day celebration (Dec. 16-24) during Noche Buena (Holy Night), to help people in Tonyville, an impoverished area that is home to many migrant families. Last year's citrus freeze and the current financial downturn hit Tonyville residents especially hard. Light and his J-School colleagues have donated several boxes of toys and books for Tonyville children.

Back in Berkeley, in conjunction with their annual holiday gathering, staff and faculty at the Haas School of Business collected gifts this year for 20 foster children at A Better Way, a local nonprofit that provides a host of foster-care, adoptive, therapeutic, and educational services.

"The holidays are especially hard for foster kids," says Heather Duval, A Better Way's gift coordinator. The agency's clients, who range in age from infancy to 18 years, "feel sadness around not being with their families," she says. "Getting the gifts puts a smile on their face and helps them know people care."