Holiday Drives in the Bay Area


Juliet Shearin

It is no secret that difficult living situations make for a stressful holiday season. Empathy for those experiencing those difficulties inspired many people to try and make a difference during the holiday season, in a myriad of ways. Food pantries all around the Bay Area have hosted holiday food and gift drives to help low-income people have more pleasant holidays. 

This November, Downtown Streets Team hosted a free community Thanksgiving dinner. They aimed to create a sense of community, family, and togetherness during the holiday season. Being homeless can be isolating or disorientating, and group dinners or events helped people without a permanent place to live feel more grounded and united.

The hosts of another dinner, Martin De Porres House of Hospitality in San Francisco, wanted to help homeless people feel respected and with dignity. They are the flagship free restaurant and offer sit-down dinners to homeless people completely free of charge. 

Their pre-Thanksgiving dinner was also restaurant-style, and was run entirely by volunteers. Aiming to help San Francisco’s homeless crisis, they have run similar dinners and provided food to the needy for decades.

Two Star Market in Oakland also believed that the holidays can be a wearying time for the bereaved, elderly, and other people with limited opportunities to form meaningful connections. In an attempt to aid those populations, they hosted a free community Thanksgiving dinner on November 28.

Although serving an entire community is a challenge—the co-owners of the restaurant anticipate 800 guests—they have plenty of experience. 2019 was their seventeenth year running the event, which regularly draws people from cities an hour or more away. 

An equally admirable effort this year were programs helping low-income or otherwise disadvantaged people get holiday gifts for their families. From Cupertino High School’s own collaboration with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to West Valley Community Services (WVCS), winter holidays were another popular time to support low-income families.

For high schoolers looking to help out the large numbers of people with a low or unstable income, it was challenging to know where to start. This year, the Cupertino High School Library joined with NAMI to provide essentials to the mentally ill, homeless and hospitalized. 

Said sophomore Apurva Pophali, who regularly volunteers to help underprivileged children, “It’s hard to ignore [poverty], knowing that you’re in a position of privilege. Especially once you know that you’re able to do something, that drive just lives on.”

One organization that aims to enable teenagers to make a difference is Vibha, an organization that helps underprivileged children all across the world. Their Bay Area chapter offered opportunities for high schoolers to volunteer, whether by hosting charity runs to raise awareness for their cause, or math competitions to raise money. This holiday season, they hosted a charity bake sale to support impoverished children in the Bay Area.

Whereas Vibha focused on helping underprivileged children, this holiday season WVCS wanted to help disadvantaged or homeless families have a typical Christmas-shopping experience. Gift of Hope, an annual event, is designed to give participants a multi-step simulation of purchasing presents. Participants moved through a free store, where they pick the items they wanted, and proceeded to a secondary room where volunteers wrapped the gifts they selected.

Although the holidays can be hard at the best of times, many different organizations around the Bay Area did their best to make the holidays a bit easier for those who are already disadvantaged. From high schoolers to churches to 501(c)s, this was a difficulty that everyone acknowledges, and one that many people tried to improve.