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Helping a Community

Young and Old Help Out

Students at Morello Park Elementary donated $1,300 from their candy gram sales, along with 1,500 coats from their warm coat drive.

Perez then dashes off to pick up 100-plus, lap-sized quilts made by a community-based quilting group at the Martinez Senior Center -- also for those unable to leave their homes -- or for anyone who shows up in a wheelchair.

"Mary is a very caring person who's spent her life helping out people in need," says Sandy Hatch Keller, who has taught quilting classes. She facilitated the group of 10, who each year craft roughly 400 quilts that are also donated to Shelter, Inc. and the Contra Costa Rescue Mission.

This Sunday, it is expected that people will once again already be lined up at the door when longtime volunteer Karen Romos arrives to make coffee at 4 a.m. and help others pass out hot chocolate and holiday treats, before transitioning to oversee the Santa room.

"It's about keeping your spirits up, making sure everyone stays positive and hopeful," she says. "We'll start at 10 a.m., and be here till the last guest has gone. We never close the door on anyone."

For years it's been a lifestyle choice for Romos, now a Martinez resident, who would tailor her vacation time to be here, spending a "hotel Christmas" with her family when her job transferred her to other parts of the United States.

And this Sunday, Walnut Creek resident and longtime volunteer Katherine Garms will oversee the clothing area as infants and children are cared for in Grandma's Corner, and adults browse through the items sorted by size and gender.

"So many people come through here. Your heart just breaks. You can't help them enough," she says.

The event has proved to be a lifesaver for some people who were once volunteers and are now on the receiving end, and it has made all the difference to a Concord woman who offered to help at the event last year.

Shirley Gervasoni learned about Christmas for Everyone while she was serving a Thanksgiving meal at her church.

Following the death of her husband, she says, "I was lost. It was a pouring, rainy day. I showed up (at Christmas for Everyone) and asked, 'can I help?' They said, 'yes,' and I went to work."

She handed out toys and recalls, "(the children's) eyes light up like you wouldn't believe."

Gervasoni's life-changing experience has permeated into the rest of her days, helping people on the streets, finding a sleeping bag for someone in need.

"I've had a good life and now it's my payback time," she says.

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