This Christmas time is a bit less hectic than usual for Mary Breshears-Perez. She’s still plenty busy, organizing the annual Christmas for Everyone holiday meal and present program she’s led in Martinez for the past 34 or 35 years (she isn’t sure exactly how long).
There’s still significant work planning to give Christmas meals, some clothes and some Christmas gifts for the kids for, perhaps, 1,000 people who may otherwise not have those things. On Wednesday morning, Breshears-Perez was still spending a lot of time with program volunteers on her cellphone — its embellished case nearly matching her sequin-adorned hat (“What can I say — I like bling,” she said).
But in the age of COVID-19, there’s somewhat less to organize for this year’s event, set to take place Friday at the Light of Grace Korean Presbyterian Church on Morello Avenue. The event itself Friday will be far different than in years past; there will be no big sit-down dinner at the church, where guests also received bags of food and clothes, kids picked out holiday gifts, adults got some much-needed services including haircuts, and everyone listened to live music and shared some holiday togetherness.
Instead, this year’s big Christmas event will be a strictly drive-through one. On Friday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., cars will come to the spacious church parking lot and, in one large line, swing by three separate stations to pick up ready-made Christmas meals, grocery-filled bags and Christmas meals for the kids.
“I figure we can get about 30 cars in here at a time,” said Breshears-Perez. She isn’t sure how many cars will come, one of many uncertainties she and her squad of volunteers have had to work around this year. About 1,200 people came to last year’s event, a relatively low number reflecting the good economy of late 2019. A few more — mostly seniors who couldn’t leave their homes — had meals delivered.
Breshears-Perez said she has no idea how many cars will roll up Friday.
“This year we could have 50, or we could have 5,000,” she said. “We plan for extra, because we know the food we make doesn’t go to waste.”
Whatever food is left over from Friday’s distribution, Breshears-Perez said, will go to an outreach program in Rodeo, and to volunteers who pass out meals to people living under bridges in and near Concord.
Clothing donations are working differently this year, too. There have been no personal clothing donations accepted this year because of COVID, Breshears-Perez said. Clothing and coat drives in San Ramon, Blackhawk and Clayton have been prolific, and Costco has also come through with substantial donations.
All told, more than 30 businesses, civic groups, labor unions, churches and fraternal organizations have donated money, goods or services this past year.
Donations of cash, with which Christmas for Everyone can meet whatever immediate needs arise, are always welcome. People can go to https://www.christmasforeveryone.com/donate/.
Along with the streamlined procedures brought about this year by COVID-19, Breshears-Perez’s usual army of Christmas for Everyone volunteers — typically 225 to 250 people — was whittled down to 25 to 30 stalwarts, almost entirely because of concerns about working in close proximity with others in the era of the novel coronavirus. The volunteers do everything from assembling grocery bags, wrapping gifts, and shuttling food to and from the commercial kitchens where it’s cooked. Much of this work takes place in a storage building behind the Korean church, where food is sorted and toys and other items are stored.
One of those volunteers is Mike Bess of Concord, a 10-year veteran who came to the church Wednesday for instructions from Breshears-Perez as how to best help. Being a senior citizen, he acknowledges it is “kind of crazy, I guess” to subject himself to the health risk. But the rewards, he said, are ultimately greater.
“I just love seeing the kids’ faces when they get the presents they otherwise might not get,” Bess said.
Breshears-Perez said she hopes things go back to “normal,” especially with the big meal gathering. But she isn’t stressing too much about this year’s disruptions.
“I take it as it comes,” she said. “This program belongs to God; whatever he brings in is OK.”