Fund helps the needy during the holidays

By Matthew Artz
Saturday October 19, 2002

This holiday season, nearly a thousand of Berkeley’s neediest families will find a check in the mail. 

The gift is courtesy of the Berkeley Holiday Fund, which after 90 years of giving has mastered the art of streamlined charity. 

Instead of hiring solicitors, or conducting fundraising drives, next month a handful of volunteers will mail donation requests to Berkeley residents. The money received will then be allocated to deserving recipients selected by 24 Berkeley nonprofit charities. 

In all about $40,000 will be donated in checks totaling between $25 and $125 per family, based on need. 

The city picks up postage charges for the checks, and Union Bank of California cashes them for recipients without a bank account. Thus, except for the cost of making and mailing the request letter, the fund has no expenses. 

“We try to keep it as simple as possible so people know the money they give us will go directly to people they want it to go to,” said co-chairman Andrew Williams 

While a check has never been considered the warmest of holiday gifts, fund organizers say it is the most dignified form of charity. 

“A check is a symbol of respect,” said co-chairman Linda Williams. “Just because someone doesn’t have money doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the right to make a choice about what to buy.” 

Kevin Williams, policy director at Berkeley Youth Alternatives, which helps at-risk youth agrees. 

“People light up when they get the check,” he said. “It gives them a freedom of choice.” 

Williams will get to select between 10 and 15 participants from his charity to receive the gifts. He said he could easily pick 100, but that it isn’t difficult to decide which people are the most in need. 

“It’s usually pretty clear who needs the gift the most,” he said. 

Throughout the process, fund volunteers remain anonymous. Because all gifts are mailed, the volunteers never get a chance to meet the people they are helping. 

All they know about the recipients is a brief description on a request card filled out by the sponsoring nonprofit. 

From the descriptions, volunteers note that many donations go to grandparents who are raising grandchildren and single mothers who are attending school. Last year’s recipients included an Afghan refugee family with four children. 

The pool of donors are just as diverse, said Linda Williams. “Our donors come from all over Berkeley,” she said. “A lot of people who don’t have a lot themselves choose to help.” 

Anyone interested in giving to the Berkeley Holiday Fund can mail a check to PO Box 9779 Berkeley, CA 94709.