By Tracy Correa
BAKERSFIELD — The calendar may say July, but it was like Christmas in the dining hall of the Pinewood Glen Senior Community today (July 30).
More than 80 seniors benefitted from PG&E’s Christmas in July event — a program launched in 2011 that provides low-income seniors with gifts and bags stuffed with basic necessities that many of them struggle to afford.
The gifts were a huge hit with seniors like Winnie Smith, who was handed a wrapped box by a PG&E volunteer after her winning ticket number was drawn. She wasted no time tearing off the Christmas paper to reveal her prize, and a wide grin.
“It’s a little mini vacuum. Oh, I love it. I was just thinking I needed to buy one of these,” said Smith. The 76-year-old said today’s visitors and party would have been enough for her, the gifts were just an added bonus.
The annual PG&E event grew out of the Bakersfield Police Department’s Christmas for Seniors program that provides holiday gifts for low-income seniors in December. PG&E employees organized Christmas in July after realizing that seniors needed help during the summer months, too. PG&E President Chris Johns attended that first-year event and it has been a huge hit ever since for the utility’s Kern County employees.
Over the past four years, PG&E employees have personally donated about $6,000 — including $1,600 this year — to buy gifts and supplies for local seniors at a new senior residential community each year. PG&E has also contributed about $5,000 annually toward the larger Christmas for Seniors program and topped that amount this year with a $6,000 check presented today.
It was a party-like atmosphere at Pinewood Glen where large tables were filled with colorful Christmas presents handed out as prizes to those whose winning ticket numbers were called. Another long table held rows of blue PG&E tote bags stuffed with items such as paper towels, cleaning supplies and toiletries. There were even gift bags with dog or cat treats for some of the seniors who own pets.
PG&E’s David Christensen, senior program manager for local government partnerships, hosted the event once again. He thanked PG&E and its employees for their ongoing support and “thousands of dollars” given to the program. Denise Newton, senior manager of PG&E’s Kern Division Leadership Team, presented the utility’s $6,000 check for the Christmas for Seniors program.
“It is absolutely a blessing,” said Sandy Morris, who oversees the Christmas for Seniors program that was the impetus for PG&E’s Christmas in July.
Morris said the event is a huge help to seniors like those at Pinewood Glen who live modestly off social security and struggle to make ends meet all year long. “Things like shaving cream for the men is often a luxury they can’t afford, instead they use soap and water to shave,” she said, noting why the toiletry gifts are so important.
Bakersfield City Council Member Russell Johnson spoke at the event and thanked PG&E for its ongoing support. “PG&E has supported the city of Bakersfield in many, many ways and is allowing us to help you,” he told the seniors.
In addition to the ticket prizes and tote bags filled with toiletries and household items, each resident was given a table fan affixed with a personal note written by a local Girl Scout. The notes included phrases such as, “You’re amazing” and “Hope you stay cool this summer.”
In all, more than 20 PG&E employees, friends and two of the utility’s summer jobs interns volunteered at today’s event.
Penny Deutsehmann, 61, said she was very touched.
“I feel absolutely wonderful,” she said as she leaned on her walker. “And, it’s wonderful that you all are out here.”
E-mail Tracy Correa at Tracy.Correa@pge.com