The 12.4 percent California unemployment rate and the state of the economy have added urgency to campus giving at UCSC. This holiday season, students, staff and faculty are continuing their longstanding tradition of giving to the less fortunate. Here are some of the ways they are helping out:

Donating to the local food bank

Hundreds of UCSC community members have been contributing to the Second Harvest Food Bank Santa Cruz County’s Holiday Food Drive in imaginative and enjoyable ways. They are also writing checks, bringing items for the food barrels, and using the new donate online option this year for credit cards.

This year the nonprofit agency, one of the nation’s oldest food banks, hopes to gather 2.1 million pounds of food for needy families; the UCSC community hopes to donate 40,000 pounds of food or cash equivalent.

On December 3, a "Fill The Truck" event was held from 8 a.m. until noon, and drew an outpouring of response. Students dropped off bags of food they collected from neighborhoods in the Santa Cruz community.

Campus Mail Services trucks made the rounds at the 2,100-acre campus, but instead of delivering parcels, they collected big sacks of canned meat, canned fish, fruits and vegetables, peanut butter, and other items.

Plenty of students showed up with bags of food around 11:30 a.m. that day. One group dropped off a whopping 25 bags of food.  

In the University Relations building on 2155 Delaware, UCSC staff got into the holiday spirit by making bids on a wide variety of items, from a hand-knit fish and toy snake created by staff member’s spouse to a $35 handcrafted "chip and dip" set and a $75 bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon that is nearly 30 years old. The silent auction is raising money for the food bank.

Those who attended a recent holiday gathering and campus celebration for faculty and staff with Chancellor Blumenthal and his wife, Kelly Weisberg, were also invited to donate to the food bank. Meanwhile, students participated in the annual Meal Plan Flexi Dollar Drive. Student volunteers tabled at every dining hall on campus seeking donations of an unused meal plan and/or flexi dollar.

The events were all enjoyable--but they reflect an urgent need.

"The winter months are especially hard for people who are struggling--heating bills increase and the holidays add more financial stress," noted UCSC community engagement coordinator Liz Evanovich. "Families and seniors still have to pay rent and other living expenses--so many go without food to meet these obligations."

This response shows a continuing commitment to giving.

Last year, UCSC staff, faculty, and students donated more than 33,000 pounds of food.

Every dollar donated to Second Harvest allows them to distribute $8 worth of food to families in need.

Annual Holiday Toy Drive

The holiday season is a time for families to get together and share meals. It's also a time when young people look forward to opening Christmas packages.

But economic doldrums increased the pressure on families who already had a hard time just paying their rent bills.  Now the UCSC Fire Department is trying to make sure that children of families in need get toys on this holiday season.

The annual Holiday Toy Drive will come to a close this Friday, December 17.

The toys will be distributed throughout the Santa Cruz area. Any campus department that has organized a toy collection, and needs pick-up, should call extension 9-3473.

So far the community response has been heartening, said Elaine Rivas, business continuity planner at the UCSC Fire Department.

"I’ve got a full barrel of toys right now, everything from huge Lego boxes to footballs, soccer balls, games, you name it," Rivas said. "It’s not quite overflowing yet, but it will be."

Rivas has noticed an uptick in donation efforts this season. "It’s more widespread," she said. "You’re seeing collection barrels everywhere you go, whether it’s for the Second Harvest Food Bank, or Toys for Tots or the giving trees you see around the campus."

Decorating the Giving Tree

The Student Volunteer Center has "giving trees" around campus for those who want to buy presents for local children and families in need. This program will benefit organizations such as New Horizons School for homeless children.

In the fourth annual Giving Tree donation drive, the Student Volunteer Center (SVC) collected winter necessities and toys for 79 children supported by the Walnut Avenue Women's Center and Jesus, Joseph and Mary Home.

This year SVC collected 1,248 donations including 134 pairs of pants, 123 jackets and sweatshirts, 129 shirts, 51 pairs of shoes, 94 undergarments, 254 pairs of socks, and many toys, toiletries, art supplies, and sports gear items.

SVC staff praised the generosity of  UCSC staff and faculty, including employees at the Women’s Center, Health Center, Hahn Student Services, Career Center, Kerr Hall, and the off-campus buildings on the Westside of Santa Cruz.

For more information call (831) 459-3363, or e-mail volunteer@ucsc.edu.