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The giving spirit

  • Shannon Clay loads a bag of donated coats into her truck to be distributed to the homeless in Courthouse Square in Santa Rosa on Christmas Day. (JOHN BURGESS / The Press Democrat)

If it's true that gifts bring more pleasure to the giver than the receiver, that may be one reason people get in touch with the holiday season's spirit by volunteering their time and energy to those in need.

Here are two tales of North Bay residents who give back during the holidays, and how the simple act of sharing has transformed their perspective on the season.

Ten years ago, Shannon Clay found herself mesmerized by a TV news story about a man and his son handing out hot meals on Thanksgiving to the San Francisco homeless.

“I loved the idea that they just did it,” said Clay, who works as director of Azure Acres, a west county drug and alcohol treatment facility. “It was right from their heart, and it was just two guys.”

So the Santa Rosa mother called up her friend, Tiffany Watson, and the duo decided to serve hot coffee and muffins to the homeless at Santa Rosa's Courthouse square on Christmas morning 2002.

“That year, we had to go around and round people up,” Clay recalled. “There were maybe 30 or 40 homeless people.”

After the first year, Clay's dad, Mike Chase of Santa Rosa, joined the effort, along with her two sons and dozens of other family members, friends and random do-gooders.

Known as The Homeless Breakfast, the grassroots project has grown over the past 10 years to include hot food and gifts of warm clothes. But it remains a non-denominational event, and has no official agency behind it.

“It's a place for us to be of service to the homeless community for one day,” Clay said simply. “We meet them where they are on the street, rain or shine.”

Volunteers are welcome to contribute in any way they want, from pouring cocoa to simply keeping the homeless company.

“We have one lady who comes every year and hands out $1,000 worth of random gift cards,” Clay said. “Another friend does a raffle for sleeping bags.”

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