Children wearing elf hats will help prepare Christmas baskets for disadvantaged families Dec. 16 at Old Mission Santa Ines in Solvang. 

The fifth-graders from Santa Ynez Valley Charter School will cart food items and fill food bins. On Dec. 19, the Christmas Basket Program will give 159 poor families from the Santa Ynez Valley a large decorated box filled with wrapped presents for each family member. Many people come to the mission every year just to see and photograph the elaborately decorated gift boxes.

The program, now in its 14th year, also provides a large hamper of food, along with toiletries, a gift card for a local supermarket and two chickens donated by El Rancho Market.

“We reach out to the community and ask them to help us convey the spirit of the season,” program director Genevieve Geyser said. “We want all of our families to experience the magic of Christmas.”

Before the children begin, Geyser talks to the students about the meaning behind their task. “I explain that the recipients of the food baskets are people in their own community. In this small way, we are reaching out to them and making sure they feel like they’re a part of the community.” 

The Old Mission Santa Ines and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul organize the volunteer program. It also involves many local organizations, businesses and churches. ν