Sharks Foundation, CEFCU Team Up With East Side Counseling Center for Annual Toy Giveaway

Manuel is a single father of three kids who only recently moved into a two-bedroom apartment in San Jose’s East Side after living in a shelter for four months. For Manuel and other parents in need, receiving presents for their kids during the holidays feels all the more meaningful in the face of so much hardship.

It’s a symbol of hope.

That’s why the Sharks Foundation and Citizens Equity First Credit Union (CEFCU) partnered to give a $10,000 grant to Alum Rock Counseling Center (ARCC) for its annual gift giveaway.

The ARCC primarily serves the needs of East San Jose, where residents have been hit disproportionately hard by Covid-19. Its annual holiday toy charity provides presents for kids and extremely low-income households on the East Side, where 50 percent of families live below the poverty line.

Covid-19 has only made circumstances worse, but events like this give reason for families to cheer, particularly Manuel’s.

“[The ARCC] has helped a lot,” said Manuel, who asked to withhold his last name. “There are a lot of places that help single moms but not single fathers. Alum Rock is the only place I could find who would help. ... The center is doing a lot of things right.”

The ARCC’s annual holiday event is one of its biggest of the year, in the past drawing upwards of hundreds of people at a single location. Although Covid-19 has forced the cancellation of any large outdoor gathering this year, it wasn’t going to prevent the ARCC staff from continuing its tradition of generosity and giving.

After the 25 families participating in ARCC’s holiday program came up with a wish list, 25 volunteers from CEFCU spent three hours at a Target store last week to buy everything on the list. On Thursday, some of those same CEFCU employees along with ARCC and Sharks Foundation staff were at the Counseling Center to wrap all the presents and prepare them for delivery.

This marks the first year the Sharks Foundation and CEFCU have taken part in ARCC’s holiday event. The Sharks Foundation traditionally hosts its own holiday party where players on the team and members of the front office adopt a family via a nonprofit.

Due to Covid-19, that wouldn’t be happening this year. The Sharks Foundation then decided to dedicate the funds from their event to ARCC as a way of outreaching in a different way. Sharks Foundation Manager Jenne Johnson said 2020 is an especially critical year for the giveaway.

“A lot of these families would not have Christmas or presents under the tree otherwise,” she told San Jose Inside. The Sharks Foundation has also partnered with SAP to provide a $34,000 grant to fund CityTeam's December Holiday Distribution event for underserved community households. “Especially in a year like this where people are living day by day and paycheck to paycheck.“

Stacy Dryer, ARCC’s chief development and communications officer, gave a sobering context of the many obstacles many of the youth in the ARCC program face.

“These kids stare into poverty, there is gang violence in their neighborhood and some have family members who are incarcerated,” she said. “That’s why I get choked up so many times when we’re able to provide assistance where they can buy items that you or I might take for granted, such as pots, pans, dolls, toilet paper, pillows, jackets and shoes. These are items these families desperately need right now.”

Peter Diaz, CEFCU’s California community president, said he got encouraging feedback from employees who volunteered for the event. It also helped clarify and bring into sharper focus of CEFCU’s most important goal, he added.

“I think in hearing from staff members once the event was over, it was really uplifting and refreshing,” Diaz said. “I think in part they needed that to put everything in perspective and the conditions that are out there at the moment. It was a good reminder of what our mission is as a credit union, and that is to give back to the community.”

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