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August 6, 2008 > The Family Giving Tree

The Family Giving Tree

Fulfilling Wishes, Changing Lives!

By Meenu Gupta
Photos By Cristi A. French

"Then give to the world the best you have, and the best will come back to you," Madelyn S. Bridges' words inspire. The Family Giving Tree provides such an opportunity of enriching each other's lives by sharing. A nonprofit organization dedicated to help people in the Bay Area, it obtains the basic necessities of life from corporate sponsors that host "Giving Trees," generous individuals who donate gifts and funds, and enthusiastic volunteers, who render their time and services. The Family Giving Tree programs include the Back-to-School (BTS) Drive and the Holiday Wish Program. In 2007, the organization's 18th year of operation, the Holiday Wish Program provided gifts for 60,000 youngsters of all ages. That same year, the BTS Drive helped 15,000 school children!

Jennifer Cullenbine created the Family Giving Tree as a class project in 1990 and has been the Executive Director ever since. "The journey has been incredible. I never imagined things like having 8000 people come to help sort gifts, or over 200 places willing to put up the wish cards and collect the packs and school supplies. The response to our programs has been wonderful. It is a very easy way to help people without a ton of effort. They have the experience of helping a child in a direct way, a child they will never see, but one who will have a much better start to school than their parent thought possible," said Cullenbine.

"My motivation has always been about helping people. This project was a way for me to use my MBA and help connect others that want to help with those who need it. I've found that there are lots of people out there with big hearts, all we needed to do was ask."Right now warehouse volunteers help receive, sort and distribute backpacks. To purchase and donate a backpack go online at:

Individuals have two ways to participate: You may take a card and shop for a new backpack and fill it with recommended school supplies or provide funds either by mail or online and the organization will purchase the items. "We usually mail the cards and a poster out the day someone registers. Sometimes they give us a FedEx number and sometimes they come here and pick them up," she said. The backpacks are collected, sorted and distributed and provided to low-income students via teachers and social service agencies. The Family Giving Tree's Back-to-School Drive works with more than 100 Bay Area social service agencies and schools. These organizations keep Family Giving Tree informed about the children they serve year-round. These are real children with real needs, who would otherwise go without a backpack on the first day of school. A backpack card is printed for each child, giving details of their grade level and gender and the supplies needed to start the school year.

For this tireless, organized and selfless effort, Charity Navigator has given the Family Giving Tree a Four Star Rating, the highest possible. In the Human Services Category, only 11 Bay Area non-profits have that same distinction, including only two in the South Bay. Contact Jeanne Clabaugh, Development Associate at (408) 946-3111 x225 or for more information about becoming a sponsor. If you wish to make a donation, visit the website and click on "Donations."

School groups, clubs or youth organizations with more than ten volunteers must contact the Volunteer Coordinator before signing up. Volunteering opportunities are available in set up, backpack receiving, quality assurance, rowing and clean up. Those interested can use the online registration above to sign up. Click on the "Task" name to Sign up before it gets filled. Snacks and water will be provided. Wear comfortable shoes and loose clothing as it can get hot in the warehouse. Feel free to bring markers, calculators, fat pencils, USB Drives, construction paper along with you when you come to volunteer. If you have any questions about volunteering, please contact Tara at or call (408) 946-3111 x214.

The venue for the 2008 Host Celebration Luncheon, a special celebration event for the BTS drive registered hosts, on September 10, from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m., is yet to be chosen. The organization needs donated tables, chairs and meals. "The lunch is mostly for the companies who have 'hosted' the program," said Cullenbine. Host companies, groups, organizations or schools display colorful posters of Family Giving Tree, attractively decorated with cards, listing needed school supplies.

2008 Back-to-School Drive
Mon. August 4 - Friday August 15
10 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Family Giving Tree Warehouse:
434 South Abbott Ave., Milpitas
(408) 946-3111

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