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YOU Can be a Secret Santa for Volunteer Center of Sonoma County


YOU Can be a Secret Santa
for Volunteer Center of Sonoma County

By Annette Musson
Volunteer Center of Sonoma County

The stories are too numerous to count because for over 40 years the Volunteer Center of Sonoma County has been enriching the lives of the people who live here. It is widely known and spoken about often this time of year that the rewards are greater to give than to receive. I don’t think anyone who has experienced the act of giving selflessly would ever argue that point, and it’s the premise behind what we’ve come to know in Sonoma County as Secret Santa.

Last year was Deanna Ramirez’s first time being involved with Secret Santa. As an employee of Exchange Bank, there was a Secret Santa tree set up in her branch. “Many of our customers had taken the red hearts from the tree and had brought back wonderful presents.” However, with the holidays quickly approaching and only a few days left before gifts needed to be collected, Deanna was concerned to notice that there were still 16 hearts still left on the tree. “I went home and told my 16 year old daughter Bree, about the remaining hearts on the tree.” And she said, “Mom, we have to fill those hearts. Everyone has to have a gift for Christmas.” The next day, Deanna and Bree gathered up all of the remaining hearts and went shopping. They filled every wish.  

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Secret Santa program in Sonoma County, and it has touched the lives of thousands of people. It began in 1989 as a Volunteer Center program called “The Giving Tree.” The idea was to display red heart ornaments on trees around Sonoma County with gift wishes for individuals in need. A year later, KZST started their own Secret Santa program with Brent Farris reading letters on-air about individuals and families and what they needed during the holidays. While both groups were successful in their efforts, there was an opportunity for even greater impact. The Giving Tree and Secret Santa partnered in 2008 to provide a better way to meet the community’s growing needs during the holidays.

Every morning on KZST during the holiday season, Brent Farris reads a new letter with a different story every day. One such letter was from a proud mom of an Army soldier who had sustained an injury to his abdomen that affected his ability to walk unassisted. He and his wife and three children had recently moved back to Sonoma County, and his mother had purchased a used bike for him in hopes that it would help rehabilitate him. She was asking for a tune-up for his bike and bikes for the family so they could all enjoy the Sonoma County bike trails together. Her hope was that it would promote his emotional and physical healing. “This would be an amazing gift for him to share with his family,” she wrote, “but ultimately with our without the bikes…my Christmas will be complete, for the first time in eight years, I will be spending Christmas with my son and his family…dents and all.”

In a follow-up letter she wrote that “my grandkids love the bikes. My son still can’t keep up with them, but the other day he hopped on his bike and peddled it while holding one of his children…  It was pretty cool to see.” Every day there is a new story. Every day there is a new opportunity to make a difference in someone else’s life. During this time of year, Secret Santa is the ideal program to facilitate that need. 

In addition to their involvement with KZST, The Volunteer Center’s Secret Santa program has evolved over the years to include partnerships with Friedman’s Home Improvement, as well as engaging  many other local businesses to display gift request hearts. Like Deanna’s branch of Exchange Bank, the idea is that businesses agree to provide public access to the red heart ornaments – each one displaying a gift wish from someone in need. Helping out is easy… walk into any local business where a tree is displayed, take a heart off of the tree and bring the gift back to any participating partner or directly to the Volunteer Center. Although you don’t need to take all the remaining hearts off of the tree as Deanna and Bree did, start with one and see the difference it can make. Although not surprisingly, Deanna says that their shared experience was the “most wonderful feeling,” and she will most definitely be participating with Secret Santa in the years to come. 

To learn more about Secret Santa or any of the other programs offered by the Volunteer Center go to or call 707-573-3399.