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February 5, 2023

Valley Churches United’s Holiday Market Returns

After a long day at the Valley Churches United storefront in downtown Ben Lomond, 70-year-old volunteer Mary Koehring is tallying up the receipts. It’s the fifth year the Boulder Creek residents assisted with the nonprofit’s Valley Christmas Project, which raises money for families in need by selling second-hand goods.

“I’ve got her beat,” 77-year-old Diana Belzer—another volunteer from Boulder Creek—chimes in. “I’ve been doing it for 16 years.”

It had been an average day sales-wise, but they’d scored some pretty sweet donations sure to generate some decent cash (even at the low price-point they’ll put on the sticker).

Over the years VCU’s Christmas sale has gained the reputation as a venue where people can find quality gifts for cheap, meaning Belzer and Koehring get to know their shoppers.

“We’re always excited to see people come back,” Koehring said. “Then they bring their kids, and they bring their friends.”

This year is their first back indoors after the darkest days of the pandemic.

“And I sat right here,” Beltzer said, pointing toward the street corner. “The wind just whipped right around the corner. My hands went numb—It was horrible, but we did it. And we did great. Really well.”

VCU persevered through Covid-19, indeed.

“You guys curated it so beautifully,” said Lynn Robinson, VCU’s executive director. “It was like six pop-up stores.”

And they received phenomenal support from the community, she recalls.

“They know this gift shop is pretty special,” she said. “They were so happy it was there.”

Plus, all the dollars raised go to help San Lorenzo Valley and Scotts Valley residents, Belzer explains.

The organization will use the money to fund their food pantry—which runs Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 9am-noon, with days for older adults on the first and third Friday of each month (from 9am-noon).

Valley Churches also offers—on a case-by-case basis—one-time assistance for things like rent and gas to help locals get to a job interview or an appointment.

“We have all kinds of special programs,” Robinson said. “Right now, we’re hopping crazy.”

Robinson was talking about the frenzy of preparing for the Thanksgiving holiday.

For the last couple years, a donor has purchased turkeys to give to families who otherwise wouldn’t have one to cook for the big day.

Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond their control, local grocery stores are dealing with a massive shortage of the birds this year.

However, Robinson says, no matter what, they’ll ensure the families on their list are able to have a lavish Thanksgiving spread, nonetheless.

VCU also readies backpacks stuffed with supplies for back-to-school season.

And, of course, they helped out during the storms of 1989, in the aftermath of the Loma Prieta earthquake and do what they can to ensure everyone can have a joyous Christmas and Easter.

But 2022 has brought a new challenge. People who used to be donors have become recipients, due to inflation.

On the other hand, some families who previously received assistance through their programs are now in a position to give back.

Belzer remembers one time when she was in the checkout line at Target, when someone recognized her.

“Do you volunteer at Valley Churches?” the woman asked her. “You have helped me so many times; I will never forget your face.”

These sorts of comments drive Belzer’s commitment to volunteer at the shop.

“We’ll be here in the boutique from now until the day before Christmas Eve,” she said. “Lots of people come here to do their Christmas shopping.”

VCU accepts donations of new toys, used clothing and pretty much anything else under the sun.

And if an item can be salvaged or repurposed, well, that’s what volunteers are for, right?

“I glued the wings back on an angel today,” said Koehring.

But with ongoing inflation challenges and uncertainties currently baked into the food supply, there’s one big donation that is particularly helpful—cold hard cash, of course.

Drew Penner
Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected]

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