A helping hand

Leaders of the Santa’s Workshop program accept a check from the Pelican Bay Athletic Organization.

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Pelican Bay inmates will be funding a handful of Christmas wishes this year, after the Pelican Bay Athletic Organization handed out checks to two different gift-giving charities last week.

The organization raises funds from inmates at the Pelican Bay State Prison. The organization brings in food from restaurants and grocery stores, and inmates purchase the food with money they earn in jobs while incarcerated.

The outcome is a substantial chunk of change raised by the organization: With this round of fundraising, the organization donated over $16,000 to Santa’s Workshop in Crescent City and $4,000 to the Oasis Shelter in Gold Beach.

In Crescent City, with stacks of gifts beginning to pile up, “it’s starting to look like a workshop,” said Celia Perez, a licensed social worker who’s taken up the lead on Santa’s Workshop this year.

The group has been around for at least 20 years, according to Perez. After donating to the program, then spending some holiday seasons volunteering to wrap gifts, she stepped up to lead the effort this year after the organization’s previous leader passed away in late October.

That means things have been changing for the program: In addition to the COIVD-19 pandemic, the transition in leadership has given organizers a later start than usual. While in previous years organizers have placed mittens on Christmas trees around town, that couldn’t happen his year.

“Because we had a late start, this is what we got,” Perez said.

Another change this year? The number of families applying for gifts from Santa’s Workshop.

Gifts are available to families who meet certain income requirements. While Perez and other organization leaders expected that number to increase this year as more families find themselves facing unemployment from the pandemic’s shutdown, the effect has been the opposite.

“I think that a lot of us were expecting the numbers to be double,” Perez said.

Perez says this year Santa’s Workshop will see slightly fewer applications than in previous years, since the pandemic has made it more difficult to offer in-person sign up options.

Still though, the program is open to families this year who might be facing unemployment due to pandemic closures, and the chance to give those gifts gives Perez the feeling of “Christmas magic,” she said.

“They are genuinely grateful and thankful for the service and receiving the gifts,” Perez said of the families who receive gifts from Santa’s Workshop.

With the impact of the pandemic in mind, Perez said she’s also trying to keep the money she spends on gifts within the community by shopping at small businesses which have struggled during shutdowns and an economic downturn.

“To spend the money locally, for the businesses that are struggling locally, that’s a big thing for me,” Perez said. “It’s going into some of these mom and pop shops.”

Santa’s Workshop is accepting donations until gifts are delivered on Dec. 18, Perez said. Interested donors can contact Rural Health Services at 707-464-7441 for information.

Up the highway, the Oasis Shelter’s Christmas program received just more than $4,000 from the Pelican Bay group. The shelter, located in Gold Beach, serves people between Coos Bay and Crescent City who are survivors of domestic abuse or stalking at home, according to Sean Rucker, an advocate with the shelter.

“Sometimes when they are survivors, they leave with little to nothing,” Rucker said.    

That’s where the shelter’s Christmas program comes in — individuals and families submit an application for gifts, clothes or food. Shelter staff shop for the individuals, and the goal is to get applicants something they enjoy for the holidays.

“There’s not always a lot left at the end of the month for the shiny new pair of shoes,” Rucker said. “We’re trying to get them a little something special.”

The past few years, the shelter’s helped 80 to 90 families, Rucker said. But this year is different — since many places where applications can be picked up are closed during the pandemic, just over 40 people have signed up so far.

“Up until this year, it grew every year,” Rucker said. “More and more people are just needing a little bit of a hand-up.”

That means the donations from Pelican Bay fill a pretty substantial chunk of the Christmas program’s need this year, Rucker said.

Still, the shelter is always accepting donations for its clients fleeing unsafe situations at home. Toys, home products and some clothes, are accepted at its location in Gold Beach. More information about the shelter is available online at www.oasisshelterhome.org/.

“It all adds up,” Rucker said.

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