Not all the Christmas gifts that area children in need receive this year will fit under the tree. One child in particular will wake up to something that will help visions of sugarplums dance in his head – a new bed.

“Our goal this year is to get more personal, to provide a family Christmas gift,” said Brian Lassen, a captain with the Avra Valley Fire District. “We interviewed a family whose son doesn’t have a bed. Well, he’s going to get a bed this year. A bag of toys doesn’t mean as much to a kid who doesn’t have shoes or somewhere comfortable to sleep.”

By giving area families-in-need some much-needed, higher-ticket items, Lassen and his fellow firefighters hope to also empower the families to help themselves.

“We want to help these people be who they want to be. Rather than spend thousands of dollars on toys that will break, we want to buy tires for their car so they can get to work,” Lassen said.

Avra Valley Fire District is one of many groups, organizations and individuals helping to make the holidays merrier for local folks who are having money problems this season.

Golder Ranch Fire District will start its annual toy drive right after Thanksgiving. People are welcome to drop off new, unwrapped toys for newborns and kids up to age 17 at any of the Golder Ranch fire stations.

The firefighters will categorize the toys and distribute them to families in the tri-city area.

Catalina Community Services will help people provide for the more than 200 children who are part of its adopt-a-family program for Christmas.

People can choose a child, a number of children and even an entire family to provide for.

“I had one woman who had all sons, and so she wanted to ‘adopt’ a girl because she wanted to be able to buy Barbie dolls and pink things,” said Barbara McClure, executive director of CCS.

While the children tend to be the focus of the adoptions, McClure suggests people also provide a “family gift,” if possible.

“Something like a household gift or a gift card to a restaurant,” she said.

McClure expects CCS to meet its goal to distribute about 200 turkeys this year, thanks to its partnership with Walmart and other vendors.

If people would like to volunteer their time, CCS can use drivers to deliver its year-round mobile meals to the homebound.

Adoptors also are needed for Be A Santa to A Senior. The program identifies older adults and helps them to cope in tough economic times.

Holiday trees with the first name and needs of senior citizens are now at participating organizations across Tucson. Locally, a tree is located at the Rural/Metro Fire Department office at 490 W. Magee Road, west of Oracle Road.

Shoppers can pick up an ornament, buy the items on the list and return the items unwrapped with the ornament attached to the Rural/Metro office.

A similar program for youngsters is being hosted by Maracay Homes. Each of its locations is hosting Starlight Children’s Foundation stars, with the names and requests of a child.

From now through Dec. 31, shoppers can pick up a star, purchase a toy and return it along with the star to the Maracay office.

To find a location, visit

Not surprisingly, organizations that serve thousands of families are having a harder time providing holiday meals this year due to the shaky economy.

The Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona announced last week that it is unable to distribute holiday food boxes this year due to the “downturn in the economy and the increasing number of people seeking assistance,” according to a CFBSA press release.

In years past, the holiday food boxes have cost $350,000, and the food bank does not have the resources this year to provide the additional holiday meals. Omitting the holiday fare enables the food bank to continue to distribute the families’ regular food boxes in November and December.

The organization is referring its participating families to the Salvation Army and Apostolic Deliverance Ministries for holiday meals.

Both the Marana branch of the Community Food Bank and Interfaith Community Services traditionally receive turkeys and hams for their holiday food bags from the CFBSA.

That is not the case this year, and they hope the families they assist will not be victims of the economic domino effect.

Linda Hampton, executive director of the Marana Community Food Bank, can attest that there is increased need this year. Last holiday, the organization fed about 1,800 families. Last month, it had about 2,300 families receiving emergency food boxes, and it receives about 100 new applications each month.

The 2,300 families translate to about 6,500 people, of those, about 1,900 are children under the age of 18, Hampton noted.

The food bank can use donations of turkeys and hams, and such holiday items as cake mix and pie filling, as well as year-round staples, such as peanut butter, canned soup and vegetables, pasta and rice. Cash and gift cards to major supermarkets are also welcome.

Thanks to the food bank’s buying power and relationships with local vendors, it is able to stretch the money it receives. “We convert $1 to $10.50 worth of food,” Hampton said. “Every donation to the Marana Community Food Bank stays in Marana.

She added that 97 cents of every dollar received goes to the food bank, whose operating costs account for only 3 cents of each dollar.

Interfaith Community Services has received a tremendous amount of non-perishable food items, thanks to food drives and other donations. However, it is asking for help in providing its participating families with holiday hams, turkeys and chickens this year.

“We need substantially more protein items to include in the 1,500 to 2,000 holiday food bags we anticipate distributing this year,” said Alison Betts.

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