A child needs new eyeglasses for school, but his parents can’t afford them. A father can’t drive to work because the family car is broken, and they have no money to fix it. A hungry child hasn’t eaten for three days. A family’s apartment is filled with mold, lead paint, and asbestos, but they have nowhere else to live.
It’s not the stuff of joyous Christmas carols, but these are the cold, hard realities of many families living just over the bridge. Coronado local Amanda Russell is set to change that and give these families a Merry Christmas anyway. Thanks to the “Christmas Giving” opportunity she has organized for the last several years, and to the generous donations of dozens of Coronado families, she’s helped raise more than $100,000 for families in need.
“Many of these children would not have a Christmas this year, but with our collective contributions we can help create a bright and happy holiday for them,” says Russell, who graduated Coronado High School in 1996 and runs Creative Affairs, Inc., an award-winning event planning company. “As you can imagine this year in particular there are many children in need, which makes our collective giving more important than ever.”
Unlike many other nonprofits and charitable giving opportunities where givers don’t really know the recipients, Russell works directly with eight families who are vetted by a school counselor at Mueller Charter School in Chula Vista. The families are selected based on their level of need, and are described in an email sent out to donors from previous years, or new donors interested in helping.
“With people unable to work, there is more hardship with families in need, making this one of the most important times to give,” says Russell, who lives in Coronado with her husband and daughter, who attends Village Elementary.
This year, a family is suffering because of a two serious spinal injuries endured by a single, veteran mother. Her two children also have medical conditions. Other children, who are raised by their grandparents, are struggling to make ends meet, while other families are facing homelessness.
Although their situations are grim, Russell says that Coronado locals always come through for these families. Last year, more than 122 families donated more than $25,570, and gave new tablets, clothes, and toys at an estimated $2000.
“It makes me grateful to live where I do. Where people care about others less fortunate and are willing to step in and make a difference,” says Russell. “This town is amazing.”
Each year, those who donate receive a follow up email, photos and pictures of thank you notes written from the families, making the experience personal and memorable. In years past, the donations have fed families who had not eaten in days, help families purchase reading glasses and tablets, helped homeless families secure deposits on new apartments, and repaired the family car.
This year, given the global pandemic, Russell is accepting cash donations. Each family has created an Amazon wish list for each child, and Russell will order and have Amazon wrap and deliver the items. She hopes to have the bulk of the donations in by December 1st to ensure items are in stock and avoid shipping delays.
Monetary donations can be made by either sending a Venmo payment to @amanda1977 / Amanda Russell, or by check or cash. Make checks payable to Amanda Russell and mail, or drop off, to 731 G Avenue, Coronado, 92118.
If things go well, Russell is hoping to expand the giving opportunity to students at Bayside Steam Academy in Imperial Beach.
“Please feel free to spread the word to anyone you think would be interested in contributing,” says Russell. “The more the merrier!”