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Thousands of people need your help

  • Patricia Elliott picks two hearts from the Sonoma County Secret Santa Program tree in the Friedman's Home Improvement store in Santa Rosa on Monday, November 28, 2011.

Charles, 78, wants a walking cane and animal picture books. Aaliyah, 1, hopes for tennis shoes and a sweater.

Their Christmas wishes are part of a campaign by local charities to provide toys and gifts to more than 36,000 Sonoma County children and adults in need, a number that remains high due to the slumping economy, campaign organizers said.

"Our goal is to fulfill every wish that comes in," said Eunice Valentine, executive director of the Volunteer Center of Sonoma County, which runs the Secret Santa program.

More than 8,000 of the program's red plastic hearts bearing gift requests from people of all ages, infants to elderly, are now on trees at 109 locations around Sonoma County, including 66 in Santa Rosa, and more will go up between now and the campaign's Dec. 19 deadline.

By the end of the program, Secret Santa expects to provide gifts to 14,000 to 15,000 people, whose wishes were submitted by about 100 local non-profit agencies, including public schools.

For details on Secret Santa, including a list of tree locations and an online gift registration page, which is new this year, go to www.volunteernow.org.

Santa Rosa and Rincon Valley firefighters, Marine Corps veterans and a North Bay nonprofit called Operation Elf are also collecting gifts, toys and cash this season:

-- Collection barrels for the Toys for Kids program, conducted by Santa Rosa Firefighters Local 1401, are at the 11 fire stations in Santa Rosa and Rincon Valley through Dec. 24.

Donations of new, unwrapped toys and cash will be used to provide gifts for more than 12,000 children in needy families, said Tony Niel, a Santa Rosa firefighter coordinating the campaign.

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