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Families in Need Can Collect Food Baskets for the Holidays Tomorrow

Friends in Sonoma Helping (FISH) will offer boxes of fresh and canned produce and gift certificates for meat. Pick-up location is Hanna Boys Center.

If the holidays—or regular days ahead—are looking a financially grim, there's a local resource to help with food, clothes, one-time assistance with rent or utilities and even rides to medical appointments. A group called Friends in Sonoma Helping (FISH) has been aiding residents here for about 50 years.

On Friday, volunteers will give out about 350 Christmas food "baskets"—which are boxes laden with fresh and canned fruit and vegetables, possibly some local eggs, and each with a gift certificate for a meat item at Lucky's supermarket.

They will distribute the boxes, as well as toys to families who want them, at Hanna Boys Center from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. No registration or donation is necessary. The boxes will be handed out at the new auditorium and the toys will be in a room next door. People can just pull up their vehicle at the door of the building.

"This is the first year we're offering a drive-up service," executive director Sandy Piotter told Patch on Thursday. "It might rain, so we're making it so people don't have to get out of their cars. Volunteers will take the boxes out to them."

Piotter said the volunteers worked out of a tent at the same location last year, while the auditorium was being built.

"It was pretty drafty," she said.

FISH has 160 volunteers and no paid positions.

"At Christmas, the community really rallies around FISH," Piotter said. "There are bell ringers outside stores. Various service organizations and churches do fundraisers."

Other groups help sort the food, she said.

Throughout the year, there are collection boxes at many spots around Sonoma. Recently, Sonoma Valley Hospital and a Girl Scouts troop did a coat collection, Piotter said.

Distribution of food in Sonoma has been going on for about 50 years," she said.

"In the 1970s, eight churches came together to form FISH. It started as a meal. That lasted for years," she said. "In the past 15 years, people’s need for a meal changed to a need for food in general. During the recession, we saw more need. The highest was in 2009."

In 2009, the group gave out 480 boxes at Christmas and 2,261 boxes during the rest of the year. That number went down slightly in 2010, possibly because many migrant workers left the valley during low grape harvests, Piotter said.

Food boxes are available five days a week at the FISH location at 18330 Highway 12. The access is from Sierra Drive.

"We have nine fridges and freezers. We put together items to keep a family going for three days."

Food pick up is at 1:30 Monday through Friday. People can choose clothes from 10 a.m. to noon Tuesday, Friday and Saturday, and Wednesday 1 to 3 p.m.

Volunteers are always needed. Currently, FISH is asking for more drivers to provide rides for medical appointments.

"We have people who need to be driven for chemotherapy and dialysis treatment," Piotter said. "Generally we transport people in Sonoma, but sometimes we go as far as Napa, San Francisco and Oakland."

FISH has one volunteer who makes "layettes" of quilts for babies.

To learn more about services provided by this group, check out their website, or call 707-996-0111.

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