Longstanding group passes out free Christmas meals to hundreds

Helena Helmold (right) accepts a $2,600 donatoin from Tim Carnahan of the Rotary Club of West Sacramento. The donation helped provide holiday meals for those in need. (Photo by David Kamminga/Rotary)

Helena Helmold (right) accepts a $2,600 donatoin from Tim Carnahan of the Rotary Club of West Sacramento. The donation helped provide holiday meals for those in need. (Photo by David Kamminga/Rotary)

NEWS-LEDGER — JAN 1, 2014 —

From the Rotary Club of West Sacramento

For decades, a volunteer organization called the West Sacramento Christmas Basket Project has provided fixings for a Christmas meal to locals who need that kind of help.

The tradition continued this Dec. 21-22, when the group passed out canned goods; pastas; vegetables; fruit; soup; potatoes; bread; rice or beans plus a voucher for a free chicken or turkey.

Long-time organizer Helena Helmold started with the project at least 35 years ago. She said that cash donations, such as this year’s $2,600 check from The Rotary Club of West Sacramento, are a big part of making the project a success. Rotary’s donation paid for the vouchers families have been exchanging for their Christmas turkey or a chicken.

The Christmas Basket Project also distributed free toys this year.

The Yolo Food Bank this year contributed baskets to the Christmas Food Basket and also to Holy Cross and New Discovery Churches, Helmold said. She describes the well-intentioned help as “an experiment” that led to confusion for volunteers at the three sites due to “triple-dipping” by some recipients. “It meant a lot more work for us (to try to match a person waiting for a box to names of those who’d pre-registered),” she said.

Next year, Helmold said, the West Sacramento Christmas Food Basket project will go back to partnering with only Holy Cross.

This has been a tough year personally for Helmold, who is 78. Her youngest, a son, age 37, had a seizure and died eight months ago. She also lost her home of 25 years to foreclosure. The home was paid in full but not insured, she said, because her two Chow dogs – a ‘high risk breed’ – made the house uninsurable. A fire in 2006 caused by a problem with her stove meant she had to get a loan to repair the damage. Ultimately, she lost the house. But, she said, her current housing, a small temporary apartment in Bryte, “let me bring my cats.” Some days, she admits, it’s tempting to move cats and self to Honolulu for the balmy weather and to be near her grandchildren.

Work helps keep her here. This year, for example, 450 families received ingredients for their Christmas meal from the West Sacramento Christmas Basket Project.

The Food Bank of Yolo County also took 250 baskets each to Holy Cross and New Discovery, Helmold said. Helmold’s volunteers delivered boxes and vouchers to elderly and disabled residents in West Sacramento and Clarksburg, as well as to residents in local low-income housing.

Helmold expressed her gratitude to the West Sacramento Rotary Club:

“I can’t begin to tell you enough about those guys. These guys have been our life saver, they really have.”

Local businessman Frank Ramos (whose son, Dan, belongs to The Rotary Club of West Sacramento), stepped up on Dec. 20 to provide a last-minute warehouse from which the group could distribute the food boxes.

Rotary’s goal this year was to match last year’s $2,200 donation to the effort, an all time high, said Rotarian and volunteer club photographer David Kamminga. Club members exceeded that target this year by $400.

Tim Carnahan, Rotary’s 2013 Christmas Basket Project chairman, said, “No one is quite sure how long we’ve been (contributing to the West Sacramento Christmas Basket Project), but when I joined 20 years ago it was already a long-standing project for our club.”

Back then, he said, “We used to ask our members to just bring one or two cans of food to each meeting for four straight weeks leading up to Christmas. Over time it became clear that our random food purchases were hard to coordinate into the food baskets and so we began collecting cash instead. For many years (Rotarian) Dick Uno headed up this project and he still helps collect the dough when we pass the hat.”

  For more information about the West Sacramento Christmas Food Basket project, contact Helena Helmold on Facebook at http://tiny.cc/jXHaK or call (916) 804-3168. For more information about The Rotary Club of West Sacramento, e-mail Rotarian Tim Carnahan at tlcarna@pacbell.net or call (916) 997-9180.

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