There is no better gift than the gift of giving, and this holiday season, the local community has a chance to give to those who truly appreciate and need what people have to offer.
In the wake of the pandemic and with inflation running rampant, now (perhaps more than ever) is a time for people to come together and support each other through December’s holiday hurrah.
For the past 50 years, North Marin Community Services (NMCS) has recognized and met Marin County’s growing need for holiday gift assistance, demonstrating indomitable charitable spirit by hosting its annual Holiday Share and Toy Drive every year for the past half century.
On Dec. 17, over 400 children from 200-plus local families facing financial hardship will receive gifts in a drive-through toy drive, making kids’ holiday wishes come true one car at a time. Children will receive gifts including toys, bikes, clothing and gift cards, all donated by generous individuals, businesses and organizations. Santa and Mrs. Claus, staff and volunteers will greet the families and pass out gifts. In response to COVID-19 and as a safety precaution, this is the third year in which Holiday Share will take place as a drive-through event.
“Our annual Holiday Share is one of my favorites, and this is a time that fills my cup: being able to see our families come by and receive their gifts,” said Liliana Palu, community support services manager at NMCS. “These are families that are currently active in our programs, and the children are invited to participate in the toy drive until the age of 18. The children create a wish list, giving donors ideas of what types of items they have interest in receiving as a gift. We see lots of requests for clothes and shoes, and I think we can see the need reflected in these requests.”
The first Holiday Share took place in 1972 when the founders of the Novato Human Needs Center wanted to help brighten the holidays for their underserved neighbors. Volunteers initially worked out of a garage where they collected and distributed holiday gifts and food to those in need. As the organization grew and evolved, Holiday Share remained an important part of its annual program. When Novato Human Needs Center merged with Novato Youth Center to form North Marin Community Services, the program continued as a core component of the nonprofit.
“I always knew that my heart was in the nonprofit world,” said Palu. “I came across North Marin Community Services, and I am absolutely happy here. Everyone is here for the same reason: to support each other and the community, and that’s something that’s really important to me—a team that cares as much as me and is dedicated to the same goal as me.”
NMCS does much, much more than distribute toys during the holidays, however. In fact, their overarching mission of empowering youth, adults and families in Marin’s diverse community to achieve well-being, growth and success is met through a vast array of programs and resources. Through actionable services such as combating food insecurity, providing emergency monetary assistance, childcare programs, educational opportunities and health care, NMCS has become the community’s safety net for at-risk families and individuals struggling to find security. In just the last fiscal year alone, NMCS served 10,579 local individuals in need, and they expect to see their numbers continue to grow.
“Because we merged just prior to the pandemic hitting, it allowed us to expand services in a quick way and really attack the socioeconomic struggles here in Marin,” explained NMCS CEO, Cheryl Paddack (formerly the executive director of Novato Youth Center). “Many continue to struggle in the wake of the pandemic, so we’re doing our best and discovering how to support people as their challenges become more complex.
“Helping community members in need is at the heart of who we are as an organization. We love it when people choose our charity as their charity of choice. We’ve expanded threefold over the past 10 years, so we’re definitely reaching out to the community to support us. Volunteering for the food pantry is a great way to get involved. Or choosing to host a Holiday Share family! One of the best ways you can help to support NMCS is simply by being our ambassadors—we are all members of this community, and we want people to feel empowered. And, if you need help, please contact us.”
NMCS evolved as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization on Jan. 1, 2018 through a merger between the Novato Youth Center and Novato Human Needs Center. As a result of the unification of these organizations, NMCS is now stronger and better positioned to serve Marin County, providing trauma-informed, integrated and culturally appropriate services to people in need.
As the anchor human services nonprofit organization serving the communities which comprise North Marin, NMCS is a multi-service organization that addresses health disparities for children, adults, families, seniors and immigrants. Their services also help to correct Marin’s extreme income, racial and educational inequalities, as well as ensure opportunities for all, especially their most vulnerable clients.
“We link families to resources or whatever they may need at the moment,” said Palu. “When you look at the basics, such as housing, food security and so much more—our goal is to link these families to those resources for sustainability and success in their goals. We have a staff of eight, doubled from four during the pandemic, since there was an increase in need, and we’re still seeing an increase in need.
“Inflation has hit some families hard. They’re trying to recover from the setbacks of the pandemic, but there are many families struggling to catch up with borrowing money, or bills that are past due and there’s a balance owed. And now, people are being stretched thin with food costs and gas, and we are still seeing a great need in the community—and, if we can’t provide for a need, then we are able to link people to those within the community who can provide for that need. We’re so grateful that we’ve been able to achieve this by strengthening our collaboration and networking within the community.”
Community members are encouraged to participate in NMCS and its 50th annual Holiday Share and Toy Drive by purchasing gifts from a child’s wish list or signing up to volunteer at the event itself. People may also contribute by sending Target gift cards, priced at the values of $25 and $50, to NMCS. For more information about NMCS or to get involved in volunteering, donations or look into assistance programs, call 415.892.1643 or visit the website at northmarincs.org.