By Katie Shaffer, Special to Moonshine Ink

Tahoe/Truckee can appear to be a very prosperous community. The unseen truth is that we have seniors who live near the poverty line, local workers living in their cars, single teenage moms trying to support their babies, and parents who work in low-wage service jobs.

Truckee Community Christmas is a volunteer-based nonprofit umbrella organization that coordinates various drives happening during the holidays to help Tahoe/Truckee’s most vulnerable families and individuals like these. Our group has had staying power for 30 years despite the shifting demographics of program recipients over the years. These shifts include: more elderly residents who are choosing to stay here, fewer teenagers who are becoming parents, and more homeless people who are settling in.

Each year, I find myself humbled by the number of local residents who join in the efforts to collect necessary items for those in need, including our drive chairs, volunteers, groups that adopt families, community members, organizations, and local businesses. They open their minds and hearts and invest their skills and energies into assisting our town’s most needy individuals and families.


One of the more profound things that I experience being involved with this annual effort is that I get to feel more deeply what it’s like to be human.

WHAT’S IN THE BOX? A two-year-old boy receives a box of gifts, thanks to Truckee Community Christmas. The organization has been in operation for 30 years. Courtesy photo

When the pandemic was first upon us almost two years ago, the board made a pivot, along with pretty much everyone in the world. How we go about our work changed in many ways, from the distribution venue that was no longer available (so we found a new one — thank you Truckee-Donner Recreation and Park District), to our outreach efforts, which went virtual. Our distribution changed to a drive-through format and the food drive became a fundraising campaign rather than a food collection initiative. Through these changes we learned that our program recipients’ spending power doubled when we provided grocery store gift cards rather than a box of food items plus a smaller dollar amount grocery gift card. The larger gift cards gave them the freedom to purchase what they really wanted or needed.

As most of us are figuring out, the way forward is not to go back.

If you want to make a difference and pitch in to care for those less fortunate during the holidays, keeping your dollars local by supporting Truckee Community Christmas provides a chance to help our most vulnerable neighbors.

If you used to shop at the grocery store during the weeks between Thanksgiving and mid-December and drop items in a collection bin at the door, we’re hoping you might instead go online to and donate even a small amount.

Each year, we have a handful of special hardship cases — made known to us through school guidance counselors, local agencies, or church staffers who often are most aware of people in dire situations. Truckee Community Christmas often pairs those who need more help than what we can give with businesses that come forward to adopt a family.

Here are a few stories from the past few years (with some details changed to protect individuals’ identities): 

  • A single father’s wife left town leaving no contact information or information about where she had gone. This young man had been doing his best most of the year caring for his two preschool-age children. He was adopted by a local big-hearted firm. Upon being asked, the father provided a list of items his family needed, which only included clothing and a few specific toys for his kids. He planned to save half the toys for their birthdays. The bulk of his earnings went toward a Donner Lake rental, gas, and daycare. He was having to choose between heat and food. When pressed to think of a couple of gifts that the firm really wanted to give him, he admitted that he could use a new pair of work gloves because his hands were cold, and that he needed a new wallet. Later, an employee from the company that adopted the family asked me if she could pay for several months’ worth of daycare to try to help them out further. A generous supply of grocery store gift cards was also supplied.
  • A mom and four K-5 school aged kids — three daughters and a son — lived in a metal structure with a leaking roof. She received the usual staples that Truckee Community Christmas provides along with a pink bike to be shared by the children. She was very touched and surprised by the donation of the brand-new bicycle.

What’s obvious in both stories is that what was provided still wasn’t enough. Clearly, many in the region depend on the amazing agencies that provide year-round services, and those groups step back in after Truckee Community Christmas wraps up each year.

IN THE SPIRIT: Truckee Community Christmas board members and volunteers hand out necessities for families in need on distribution day. Courtesy photo

Success stories are told on the faces of our recipients who are sincerely grateful to receive an age-appropriate toy for each child in their family. They also receive grocery store gift cards, and for some, a warm jacket. It’s heartfelt to witness.

During the holidays, by providing a small token of help, we send a larger message that says: “We care about you.” That’s what it’s all about.

For those who join us, the collective commitment is inspiring. It encompasses enthusiasm and an expectant idea about how we can make things just a little bit better for those who live and work in our community who are less fortunate. It’s a simple but mighty thing to have a village take care of its own.

If you’re interested in learning more, visit

~ Katie Shaffer has served on the Truckee Community Christmas board since 2006 and is currently board president. She also chairs the marketing committee for the Contractors Association of Truckee Tahoe and is founder and CEO of East River PR.


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