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New home for Petaluma holiday charity

  • Volunteers Jim Fitzgerald and Barbara Rossi organize toys donated to Christmas Cheer at the toy and food giveaway charity's new site on the property of First Presbyterian Church on B Street in Petaluma. The charity has been operating since the 1950s. (Conner Jay / The Press Democrat)

There was no room at the inn this year for Petaluma's Christmas Cheer.

But after knocking on a few doors, the six-decades-old charity found a home for its all-volunteer food and toy giveaway at Petaluma's First Presbyterian Church.

The organization now is accepting monetary donations and new toys for kids through age 12 in an effort to serve 60 shut-in senior citizens and 500 families and 1,800 children in need this Christmas.

While the site this year — a double-wide trailer behind the B Street church — is a bit of a squeeze, volunteer Jim Fitzgerald said group participants are grateful they still can fulfill their annual mission.

"We're rolling along," he said. "We'll be rockin' and rollin' soon."

Christmas Cheer began in the 1950s as a project of the Petaluma Coordinating Council, which wanted to avoid duplicating holiday charity drives, said Deborah May-Buffum, who has volunteered with the group for more than 15 years.

For the past two decades, Christmas Cheer has focused on providing a food basket and toys for each child in the house for low-income residents of Petaluma and Penngrove.

For the past several years, the group worked out of warehouse space at several locations donated by Cornerstone Properties. But the company didn't have space available this year, Fitzgerald said.

The tight quarters in the church trailer means there isn't much room for food storage this year, so instead of large baskets of fresh food, families will be given limited fresh vegetables and frozen chickens and gift cards to purchase fresh food at the Grocery Outlet store in Petaluma.

Grocery Outlet owner-operator Michael Billeci said Christmas Cheer is one of his favorite local charities to be involved with.

"It's really something special," he said. "These people work so hard getting things ready for people."

He negotiates a discounted bulk price for the fresh produce and other pantry staples Christmas Cheer helps provide.

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