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There were no door-buster discounts, no advertised sales or coupons luring shoppers to the Christmas boutique set up in the rear workrooms of the Welfare League thrift store this week.

What drew them was need, along with direct invitations to come choose from among hundreds of brand new toys and clothes to put under the tree for the kids back at home. For free.

Selecting sports balls and 3-foot dolls, Barbies, craft kits, trucks, building sets and more from display tables festively decorated for the organization's weeklong Christmas Unlimited, moms and some dads filled large black plastic bags with goodies: a toy, a book and an outfit for each child 10 and under.

"It's amazing," Leticia Sanabria of Santa Rosa said Thursday, a lasting smile on her face while she selected gifts for her 3-year-old daughter, including a sparkly set of fancy shoes and matching accessories. "It's super nice that they do this."

"It really helps a lot," another mother, Amy Ornelas said, her sack heavy with presents for two young kids, ages 5 and 1, and a newborn.

In a decades-old tradition that started with providing toys and other Christmas treats for those in need as early as 1950, the nearly 75-year-old ladies league expects to provide gifts for about 2,000 Sonoma County children this year, all of it purchased with proceeds from the Fourth Street thrift shop it runs year-round.

It's the season of giving, after all, when agencies and organizations of every variety do what they can to bring joy to those who may be struggling, through toy drives, giving trees, adopt-a-family for Christmas campaigns, holiday feasts and more.

Firefighters are collecting toys, the Redwood Empire Food Bank accumulating groceries, Salvation Army volunteers ringing bells, all hoping to ensure there's a little something special for all during the holidays.

In the early days of its Christmas giving, the league's members sewed little dresses, built rocking horses and made or repaired other toys to distribute to the families it served, past president Earlene Reichert said.

These days, a handful of volunteer shoppers begin a year ahead of time, hitting the Christmas sales, and shop through the year to acquire children's clothing and new toys at sale prices, said Georgi Gironimi, a program chairwoman.

With a budget of $39,000 this year, they hit outlets and after-Christmas sales, often making purchases with special manager discounts provided by major retailers, she and other organizers said.

Then, as a means of empowering those who participate, it permits the parents and guardians to pick out presents from different categories to meet the needs and wishes of their children.

Each participant is given an appointed time to come to the shop and be escorted through the back rooms where the supply of clothes and toys is frequently replenished.

The League owns its building, so there's no mortgage or rent, meaning it can afford to serve hundreds of families, though budget constraints no longer permit the group to include children over age 10.

It's still "an awesome program," said Tara Lopez, of Santa Rosa, who has three sons, including 10-year-old twins.

Marisol Lara said the bulk of what her two girls would get for Christmas was inside her bag.

"It's a pretty good idea for the less fortunate," she said.

California pot: Smoke it (or eat it) if you can get it

OAKLAND — It wasn’t exactly reefer madness Monday as California launched the first legal sales of recreational marijuana, but those who could find the drug celebrated the historic day, lining up early for ribbon cuttings, freebies and offerings ranging from cookies to gummy bears to weed with names like heaven mountain.

Jeff Deakin, 66, his wife Mary and their dog waited in the cold all night to be first in a line of 100 people when Harborside dispensary, a longtime medical pot shop in Oakland, opened at 6 a.m. and offered early customers joints for a penny and free T-shirts that read “Flower to the People — Cannabis for All.”

“It’s been so long since others and myself could walk into a place where you could feel safe and secure and be able to get something that was good without having to go to the back alley,” Deakin said. “This is kind of a big deal for everybody.”

Harborside founder Steve DeAngelo used a giant pair of scissors to cut a green ribbon, declaring, “With these scissors I dub thee free,” before ringing up the first customer at a cash register.

Sales were brisk in the shops lucky to score one of the roughly 100 state licenses issued so far, but customers in some of the state’s largest cities were out of luck. Los Angeles and San Francisco hadn’t authorized shops in time to get state licenses and other cities, such as Riverside and Fresno, blocked sales altogether.

Licensed shops are concentrated in the San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego, around Palm Springs, San Jose and Santa Cruz, where the KindPeoples shop tacked up a banner Monday declaring, “Prohibition is Over!”

The state banned what it called “loco-weed” in 1913, though it has eased criminal penalties for use of the drug since the 1970s and was the first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes in 1996.

California voters in 2016 made it legal for adults 21 and older to grow, possess and use limited quantities of marijuana, but it wasn’t legal to sell it for recreational purposes until Monday.

The nation’s most populous state now joins a growing list of states, and the nation’s capital, where so-called recreational marijuana is permitted even though the federal government continues to classify pot as a controlled substance, like heroin and LSD.

The signs that California was tripping toward legal pot sales were evident well before the stroke of midnight. California highways flashed signs before New Year’s Eve that said “Drive high, Get a DUI,” reflecting law enforcement concerns about stoned drivers. Weedmaps, the phone app that allows customers to rate shops, delivery services and shows their locations, ran a full-page ad Sunday in the Los Angeles Times that said, “Smile California. It’s Legal.”

Travis Lund, 34, said he’d been looking forward while working the graveyard shift to buy weed legally for the first time since he began smoking pot as a teen.

“I’m just stoked that it’s finally legal,” he said after purchasing an eighth of an ounce of “Mount Zion” and another type of loose leaf marijuana at Northstar Holistic Collective in Sacramento, where the fragrance of pot was strong. “I’m going to go home and get high — and enjoy it.”

—Associated Press


Find more in-depth cannabis news, culture and politics at EmeraldReport.com, authoritative marijuana coverage from the PD.

Gironimi said a volunteer who helped with the program a few years back remembers waiting in the car with her siblings while her own parents "shopped" inside for Christmas.

Then they would come out with big black bags that kept whatever was inside secret.

"She said as far as she was concerned," Gironimi recalled, "that shop was where Santa Claus lived."

(You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com.)

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