The holiday season is often affectionately referred to as “the happiest time of the year.” But for those facing financial hardships, it can be incredibly isolating. The Berkeley Holiday Fund (BHF) is an organization that aims to improve the lives of Berkeley’s” low-income residents during the holiday season by providing them with small gifts of money. We’ve partnered with them for many years to help our consumers and enrich Berkeley’s sense of community and care by enabling folks to help their fellow citizens.
Every October, the all-volunteer Berkeley Holiday Fund committee partners with 30 different agencies and non-profit organizations — including TheCIL — to identify individuals and families who could benefit from such a gift. In December, the Fund mails it to each recipient.
Over the years, we have entered 100+ names to the Berkeley Holiday Fund. “The Berkeley Holiday Fund allows TheCIL to bear witness to the importance and well-being of in-need consumers,” writes former TheCIL’s Living Well Program Coordinator, Grace Wright. She organized our partnership with the Berkeley Holiday Fund for the last nine years. “Through receiving Berkeley Holiday fund checks, hundreds of consumers have been lifted during their times of homelessness, health and financial difficulties, and other needs.”
Each CIL staff member reaches out to their current and past low-income Berkeley consumers to see how they have been doing and are interested in receiving a Berkeley Holiday Fund check. If they want to receive a BHF gift, we write down their information and a little story explaining why we feel they need this holiday gift to send to the Berkeley Holiday Fund committee.
We asked former recipients to reflect on their experience with the BHF and us:
Giovana is a disabled, queer, Afro-Latina Berkeley resident who lives with her partner, Pua, and their dog, Queenie. She used to be a consumer, peer mentor, and travel trainer at TheCIL. She has been a Berkeley Holiday Fund recipient for the past four years.
With rent and other prices increasing in the Bay Area, Giovana explains, “I use half of my holiday fund check for bills and save the other half for when we want to travel to Hawaii to see Pua’s family.”
Christof was one of our travel trainees in 2013. He and his former travel coach, Alexander Sing, who is now one of our Information and Referral Specialists, keep in touch periodically. Christof is now married and has a two-year-old child. He has been a recipient of the Berkeley Holiday Fund for the past three years.
“I am always pleasantly surprised when [the Berkeley Holiday Fund] check arrives. I am thankful to my former travel trainer, Alex, for always reaching out to see if I would like to participate. He will inquire yearly about my Berkeley residency, which is the main factor in qualifying to participate and keeping in touch throughout the year. Thank you!”
Tina has been a consumer of ours for many years. She was homeless, got connected with TheCIL from another organization, and one of our former peer counselors and now housing consultant, Janet Brown, assisted her in finding a place to live.
Because of Tina’s success, Janet put Tina’s name on the list to receive a Berkeley Holiday Fund gift and has done so ever since. When we talked with Tina recently, she expressed her gratitude towards Janet, TheCIL, and the Berkeley Holiday Fund:
“TheCIL has helped my family and me. I now have my own place. The Berkeley Holiday Fund check has helped me buy my Christmas dinner every year for my family. I’m on a fixed income, so that this gift will feed my 15 grandkids and six great-grandkids. If it weren’t for CIL, I would not know where I’d be.”
We also spoke with Resident Service Coordinator Andrea Brown at Redwood Gardens Apartments, where we’ve hosted peer support groups and presentations to get her thoughts on the Berkeley Holiday Fund. She has helped us select people for this gift for years.
“The Berkeley Holiday Fund is a diamond in the rough as a valuable foundation that has embraced many lives to worthy causes. I’m so glad it is still here, creating a quality of life that touches the hearts of each household with tangible support, especially at a time where the world has gone cold and isolated. They provide warm hugs via check form to the less fortunate, which produce an attitude of gratitude, BHF...I salute you.”
Brown shared with us a note from one of her residents who is receiving a BHF gift this year:
“Dear Andrea, Thank you for selecting me. I have never doubted God’s bounty that has been a constant in my life. This gift is just a confirmation of something I know well. I have always looked for something that I knew was there!”
This sense of community and caring was the intent of Jo Mills, a local banker who organized the first municipal Christmas Celebration for Berkeley residents in 1912. According to Berkeley Holiday Fund, the large-scale pageant was initially held in Harmon Gym and later moved to the Greek Theatre. Every year, public schools, churches, and other civic organizations participated. Not only did the annual spectacle entertain, but the funds it raised were also used to provide gifts of clothing, blankets, food, and toys for families in need.
After Mills passed away in 1935 and the pageant ceased to exist, the Christmas Committee continued helping those in need during the holiday season. Betty Hall, secretary of the organization for more than 30 years, enlisted the help of the boy scouts to address envelopes to over 20,000 potential donors every December. It continues to be supported by the Mayor and members of the City Council and the 30+ social service agencies. Last year, the Fund sent checks to over 1,000 recipients and distributed upwards of $72,000 in just one season. This October, we submitted approximately 80 names for this year’s Berkeley Holiday Fund.
Wright says, “The Berkeley Holiday Fund and TheCIL’s partnership is grounded in love, respect, dignity, and community engagement. Their message is: ‘You are not alone. We are here for you. Let’s move forward together.’”