Hallam began volunteering for Brighter Christmas 10 years ago as a freshman at Tracy High School, when her mother thought it would be a good idea for her to get involved. Every December since, she has found her way to the line of volunteers helping local families in need.
“It’s become a tradition. It doesn’t seem like Christmas unless I help out,” Hallam said. “This is kind of a community, a Christmas community. I see the same people every year.”
She was one of hundreds of volunteers who packed boxes of food and toys on Saturday, Dec. 21, and handed out the donations Sunday.
The charity has helped families in need in the Tracy community for more than 30 years.
Brighter Christmas director Steve Abercrombie said 714 families received boxes of donated toys and food this year. More than 1,600 children, from infants to 13-year-olds, were provided with gifts.
Brighter Christmas planning began in early November as volunteers met and families applied for help. Fundraisers, including the downtown Brighter Christmas Jail, a dinner-auction and the Angel Tree at West Valley Mall, helped solicit donations for toys and food.
Watching the line of cars at Sunday’s distribution, Abercrombie said this year’s effort was a success.
“It’s going like clockwork — everything is going well,” Abercrombie said. “Yesterday was a long day boxing food and toys, but we had a tremendous turnout from volunteers.”
More than 180 people packed boxes of food at a north Tracy warehouse on Saturday morning. Then, in the afternoon, volunteers chose gifts for the children in each family from piles of toys arranged by age.
On Sunday, Kimball High School senior Haylee Wheeler waited in the long line of volunteers who took turns carrying boxes to the families in their cars.
“I think it’s a great cause,” Wheeler said. “It’s nice to see how grateful the people are when you give them the presents. It’s just like being Santa.”
Justin Pekari, a freshman at Kimball High, helped Wheeler with the distribution. He had spent more than five hours Saturday boxing food and toys.
“It’s really great,” Pekari said. “It’s worth all the hours you put in, because the families really need the toys and food.”
He said packing the food was the hardest part, because it required heavy lifting, but seeing the recipients’ expressions made the effort worthwhile.
“One of the ladies we helped looked really grateful,” Pekari said. “It was good to see that.”
Abercrombie said a large number of young people helped this year’s Brighter Christmas effort. Among them were students in his Drug Abuse Resistance Education classes and more than a dozen members of the Tracy Fire Department Explorer Post 900.
Explorer Dylan Krolczyk noted the importance of helping fellow residents of Tracy.
“This is one of our community service events, giving back to families in need,” Krolczyk said. “It’s a great feeling at the end of the day knowing we helped change someone’s life and put a smile on their face.”
Fellow Explorer Joshua Clark said he liked the team effort.
“I think it’s awesome helping out families in need,” Clark said. “Everyone works together — there’s that atmosphere at Christmas.”
• Contact Glenn Moore at 830-4252 or email@example.com.