Despite the uncertainties surrounding the relentless COVID-19 pandemic, Wish Book readers remain steadfast in their support of Bay Area nonprofits and the people they serve. Readers have donated more than $903,000 to Mercury News’ holiday giving campaign, supporting a diverse group of good causes — many of which are struggling to recover from the pandemic.
“The Wish Book campaign is one of the most important things we do each year,” said Sharon Ryan, publisher of the Bay Area News Group. “Once again, the powerful storytelling of our award-winning journalists combined with the generosity of our community to achieve this sensational result.”
More than 2,100 people donated to the campaign this year, and that generosity will have ripple effects across the region – helping at least 50,000 people served by South Bay nonprofits and potentially many, much more. Wish Book and its companion program in the East Bay, Share the Spirit, raised more than $1.4 million combined, the second year in a row their totals topped $1 million, marking a level of donor generosity well higher than before the pandemic.
Among the beneficiaries is Leonora Martinez, who will finally be able to draw a real bath for her teenage son, Austin, who was disabled following a bicycle accident in 2017. Leisa Preston, director of the Ecumenical Hunger Program based in East Palo Alto, said asked Wish Book readers to help Martinez in ways the nonprofit couldn’t by providing $25,000 in funds to build the family a bathroom that can accommodate Austin’s wheelchair as well a tub for the 6-foot-1, 250-pound young man.
Readers responded strongly to the story, told by Bay Area News Group reporter Julia Prodis Sulek and photographer Dai Sugano. “A lot has happened to this family, but I feel like we’re resilient,” Martinez said in the post. “We do our best with what God has given us.”
And now they will be able to do a little better.
Readers were also moved by stories about First Place for Youth, a non-profit organization that provides housing for young people coming out of foster care; the Homeless Garden project in Santa Cruz; and the Institute of Youth Sciences based in Los Gatos.
YSI Executive Director Erika Buck said the $25,000 from Wish Book readers will help programs like her new “Science Saturday” at Alum Rock Park in San Jose. Currently, it reaches about 66 at-risk, low-income students, but YSI wants to expand its scholarship program to serve 288 children.
“The Youth Science Institute is grateful to community members for their generosity and to Wish Book for making this possible,” she said. “As a result, we will be able to inspire more school-at-risk children from low-income communities by providing hands-on, nature-based science education programs.”
For Live Oak Adult Day Services, which has battled the COVID-19 pandemic with staffing shortages while trying to serve elderly customers at three Santa Clara County locations, the goal isn’t so much expansion than rebounding to its pre-pandemic levels. It lost retired employees and other jobs during the crisis, and still hasn’t been able to hire enough workers to reopen its Los Gatos center.
But chief executive Ann Peterson is optimistic that when things calm down on the health front, they will be able to bring back many services. And the $20,000 wish that was granted by Wish Book readers will be part of that effort.
“This year we are trying to ramp up, but we are not able to accommodate as many clients as we would like,” she said, adding that 45 families were on a waiting list. “We can’t serve them because we don’t have enough staff. We really rely on funds from Wish Book to help.
The Wish Book program was started in 1983 as a way for the greater San Jose community to shine a light on the stories of those less fortunate among our neighbors and provide readers with a way to help them improve their lives. Tax-deductible donations are accepted year-round at wishbook.mercurynews.com.
Bay Area News Group’s East Bay program, Share the Spirit, had a banner year in 2021. It raised $535,722, a huge increase over last year’s total. Share the Spirit will use the funds to help organizations such as Open Heart Kitchen based in Livermore, Options Recovery Systems in Richmond and Rainbow Community Center in Contra Costa County.
San Jose resident Bonnie Home is one reader who thinks she hasn’t missed a year by donating to the Wish Book campaign. “Who wouldn’t want to grant a wish for a deserving person?” Most of us can only grant small wishes, and it delights us to surprise people by giving them their heart’s desire,” she said. “But to grant a big wish? It takes all of us. When wishes are studied as carefully as the stories in Mercury News’ wish book, I’m confident that donations will be used wisely and in the best way possible.
Year after year, she says, she has donated in memory of Holly Hayes, who was Mercury News’ wish book coordinator for several years before her death from cancer in 2010. She made the last “wish” from the 2009 season a few days before she died.
“She didn’t forget the people of San Jose,” Home said, “and I don’t want to forget her.”