Throughout the year, the UC Merced Community Engagement Center (CEC) offers a variety of opportunities for students to work for the betterment of the area.
But at the holidays, faculty and staff are invited to take part as well.
Over Thanksgiving, the center raised money to purchase traditional holiday meals for 30 families — with turkey, potatoes, pie, cranberry sauce and a vegetable, said Vernette Doty, CEC director.
Representatives of All Dads Matter, a support group through the Merced County Human Services Agency, distributes the meals to families who are in need.
The Thanksgiving effort started in 2013. “We have served over 176 families,” Doty said.
Money is still being collected to pay for this year’s meals, she said. “We are still a little bit behind on fundraising.”
In December, the center hosts a project called “Home for the Holidays” to help bring some cheer to people who might otherwise be struggling.
Four small holiday trees have been placed in various university locations: the Community Engagement Center (KL190), the third floor of the Administration Building, Suite 315, the Engineering Building and the Downtown Campus Center.
On the trees are envelopes, each representing a family. Inside each are the genders, ages and sizes of their children. Families are also asked what their children need most, be it a new coat or a pair of shoes or pajamas.
“Our largest family has nine kids,” Doty said.
People will pull an envelope off a tree and then purchase items requested. If people who don’t work onsite want to participate, Doty said, they can contact the center and have an envelope pulled off that way.
Often, departments will get together to shop for a family, picking up the items they need. Some participants also include a toy.
“It’s pretty amazing to see what the campus does. It fills your heart,” Doty said. “People bring back beautifully wrapped packages.”
The project is back in a full-fledged way after the coronavirus pandemic put a damper on efforts for the last couple of years. Not that they stopped altogether.
“During COVID, we just did a toy drive,” Doty said. With people working remotely and avoiding inside places, they had to get creative. “In 2020, we met up in a lot of parking lots,” she said.
It’s an important project outside of the immediate help it provides in the Merced area. Because recipients are told the gifts come from UC Merced, it’s an opportunity to build bridges to some low-income children who might not yet be familiar with the university.
“The fact that these are presents the kids get to open makes it really special,” Doty said.
Participants have until 4 p.m. Dec. 20 to return the wrapped gifts either to the engagement center or the Downtown Campus Center. For more information, go to giving.ucmerced.edu/cec.
Other campus organizations also are helping to bring holiday cheer.
The School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts (SSHA) is working with the Merced City Police and Fire departments to collect toys and/or gift cards for local children in the Merced community. Items can be dropped off before Dec. 14 at the SSHA reception desk in COB1, Room 259.
And the Guardian Scholars program is accepting beanies, mittens, scarves and small hygiene products for its fourth annual “Gift Box Project,” benefitting foster youth in the Merced and Turlock communities. Items can be dropped off at the Leo and Dottie Kolligian Library, Room 222.