The Von der Ahe family spent last Saturday afternoon in their Corona del Mar home wrapping Christmas presents for two needy families. Bo and Cathy Von der Ahe and their four children--Matt, 10; Andy, 9; Danny, 5, and Christy, 3--busied themselves enveloping toys with Christmas paper and bunting.
There were puzzles, dolls, crayons and coloring books, big wheels, miniature construction sets, radios, footballs and chalkboards. These were the toys, Cathy said, that the two indigent families' three boys and six girls, ranging in age from 6 to 10, would open Christmas morning.
The toys will be distributed to the families by Share Our Selves' (SOS) Adopt a Family Christmas program. SOS is one of a plethora of charities, social services agencies, churches and other groups seeking to bring holiday cheer to the county's impoverished.
SOS's Christmas campaign, Adopt a Family, provides food, clothing and housing to the needy during the holidays, said a spokeswoman for the Costa Mesa volunteer service organization.
'Giving ... Is Important'
"We think giving toys is important because we know how much joy and delight they bring to our own children on Christmas Day," Cathy explained.
But Cathy, 37, a homemaker, and Bo, 39, a real estate developer, said they also understand the practical needs of these two families that have fallen on hard times. Thus, they have included a large supply of pants, sweaters and other clothing among their supply of gifts. The ages and sizes of the children were provided by SOS to the Von der Ahes for this purpose.
On Monday morning, the Von der Ahe family, continuing a 7-year-old tradition, will drop off their gifts in the parish hall of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Costa Mesa.
Included will be two baskets filled with turkeys and other kinds of food on which the Von de Ahes themselves will feast on Christmas day.
The Christmas donations will be ferried from this SOS drop-off point by volunteers to poor families, primarily in Costa Mesa and Santa Ana, SOS executive director Jean Forbath said. The Von der Ahes and the needy families will never see each other, Forbath said.
"Our participation in Adopt a Family has become a special part of our Christmas celebration," Cathy said, voicing what spokesmen for charities say commonly motivates people to give to the less fortunate during the holidays. "We're fortunate. Our Christmas wouldn't be quite as wonderful if we didn't give to others who've had a rough year.
"Christmas just isn't the same if parents don't have anything to give their children. Adopt a Family, by providing gifts that parents hand out themselves, allows these parents who've had a rough time of it to share in their children's delight at having something for Christmas."
(Those interested in participating in the Adopt a Family program, which is seeking another 150 donors of goods or money to match last year's record of serving 900 families, may call SOS at (714) 642-3451.)
Throughout Orange County, countless families like the Von der Ahes are donating toys, food, clothing and other items to the needy for Christmas. Despite the best efforts of the county's charities and social service agencies, spokesmen representing a random sampling of these groups say there rarely is enough collected during their Christmas campaigns to go around to all in need.
Increased Demand Noted
"Every year the county's residents always come through with amazing generosity with the pledges of money they mail in or by giving during our Christmas kettle campaign," said Warren Johnson, business manager of the Salvation Army in Orange County, expressing a view shared by spokesmen for many charities. "But the demand for our services this year is up 10% to 15%."
Charity spokesmen say they're unusually troubled this holiday season about whether they'll be able to provide the indigent with a merry Christmas. They cite two factors beyond their control: the supermarket strike and the episodes of unseasonably cold weather that have hit the homeless hard.
"There are so many homeless this year," SOS's Forbath said. "They're sleeping in blankets and sleeping bags between buildings, under bushes in parks and in bus shelters. More than 2,100 homeless came to us last month; 900 of them were children. We're trying to raise money so at least the children will have a roof over their heads on Christmas Day. I have no idea how much this will cost, but we'll do our best."
The 6-week-old supermarket strike has had a devastating effect on the Food Distribution Center serving Orange County, according to executive director Dan Harney. It is run by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and is one of the county's two largest food banks, serving as a food clearinghouse for 179 social service agencies in the county, Harney said.