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American River Messenger

Helping Thousands Through Gifts from the Heart

Dec 30, 2022 12:00AM ● By Sac County News Release

Gifts from the Heart seeks volunteers throughout the year to aid the work culminating during the holiday season. Photo courtesy of Sac County

SACRAMENTO COUNTY, CA (MPG) - Each year, tucked away inside a Sacramento warehouse, you’ll find a different kind of Santa’s workshop. Instead of elves, volunteers are spending long hours wrapping presents. And in place of Santa, people of all ages spare their time to deliver gifts to those who otherwise might not get anything during the holiday season. It’s all part of Sacramento County’s Gifts from the Heart program. 

Gifts from the Heart is a gift-giving program developed to provide presents for babies, kids, teens, disabled adults, and seniors. The program serves individuals in Sacramento County’s Child Protective Services and Senior and Adult Services. This holiday season marks 34 years for the program. At the head of it all is Volunteer & Student Intern Services Coordinator Tonja Edelman.

Gifts from the Heart works with community partners, religious organizations, and professional groups to help thousands of people each year. Dozens of volunteers dedicate their time to help pick up toys, organize donations, and drop off gifts. Tonja estimates the program will provide gifts to about 3,500 clients this year. 

While people get to see the magic during the Gifts from the Heart holiday giving campaign, the program begins well before winter. Each year, Tonja starts recruiting volunteers in late summer.  

After more than 30 years, there are still needs to be met. Tonja wants people to remember that it’s not just children who need holiday gifts but also teens, babies, seniors, and those aging out of foster care. 

“The need is always there,” said Tonja. 

Gifts from the Heart volunteers say they always need delivery drivers to drop off the presents. Several of their elderly clients do not speak fluent English, so they would love to see multilingual volunteers help out.

“People really just want to feel that connection and share their culture with someone who can relate,” said one volunteer.

Kendra Flin has volunteered for the program for several years in a row. After finishing a busy master’s program, she still found time to help out this year. She hopes sharing her experience will encourage others to give back. 

“The people that volunteer are so fun and amazing and supportive,” said Kendra. 

A volunteer shift starts with Kendra receiving her delivery route. Each person who is receiving a gift is marked down on a sheet of paper. When Kendra goes on a delivery route, she drops off a gift for half a dozen to ten people, sometimes delivering a couple of gifts per person. 

During a recent volunteer shift, Kendra’s list included several seniors living throughout south Sacramento. She loaded up a car with gifts – many so large she had to use both hands to carry them while she walked slowly to houses and apartments. 

“You are delivering directly to the client and they are just really grateful,” said Kendra. 

Despite juggling large boxes and sometimes driving by homes several times before coming to the right stop – Kendra kept a smile throughout her route. And everyone smiled back. She wished each person a happy holiday as she dropped off their gift. And with each gift, she gave them something else – a joyful experience that made many of their days. 

“You got me something but I didn’t get you anything,” one elderly man joked when Kendra placed his present down in his living room. 

But, he did give her something. He reminded her why she loves participating in Gifts from the Heart. 

“It’s about being able to give to people around the holidays,” said Kendra. 

And that was not the only rewarding experience on her route. Kendra knocked on the door of an apartment where a woman with white hair and a Christmas sweater answered. When Kendra explained that she had been referred to the program by her social worker, the woman broke out into tears. She was beyond grateful that anyone had thought of her this holiday season. 

“Thank you so much and bless you,” she told Kendra while pulling her in for a hug. 

“That’s why we do this,” said Kendra. 

After Kendra finished up her day of delivering presents, she had a message for anyone who is thinking about giving back during the holidays. 

“It’s so rewarding. It’s so much fun. So, just do it,” said Kendra. 

So, next year, whether it’s volunteering your time or donating, consider giving a gift from your heart. 

For more information on Gifts from the Heart, including how you can become involved, visit the GFTH Questions and Answers webpage at Sac County.