Chris Smith: Welfare League brings Christmas to families in need despite pandemic

Just about this time, in more normal years, something magical happens within the Railroad Square thrift shop that’s run by volunteers with the Welfare League.

Dressed in holiday finery, women generally old enough to be grandmothers greet into the tidy secondhand store hundreds of parents unable to afford much for their children for Christmas.

Having been referred by area schools and service agencies, the parents are treated with great kindness and respect by the Welfare League members who each year for about 60 years have hosted Christmas Unlimited.

The women of the Welfare League purchase new clothes, toys and books with dollars earned by the thrift store. And in early December they invite the referred parents to come choose gifts for their children, for free.

As you might suspect, Christmas Unlimited could not for myriad reasons happen as usual this year. So the women of the Welfare League hosted what might be called Christmas Limited.

They received from schools and social service nonprofits the names of 531 local families that could use help with gifts for a total of 1,140 children. Welfare League members then purchased new outfits and some toys, and a group of the women knitted hats.

The COVID-19 crisis would not allow for inviting many hundreds of parents into the thrift store to pick up the gifts. So instead, Welfare League members bagged everything up and asked representatives of the referring schools and agencies to come pick them up, and to deliver the gifts to the families.

“It was not quite as festive as in years past,” said the League’s Nancy Koski. But for many families, it will make a great difference this Christmas.


KEN GNOSS, the former police office and criminal prosecutor who in 2005 became a Sonoma County judge, is what I’ve long considered to be an exceptionally good guy.

Members of the state Chief Probation Officers of California heartily agree.

They’ve just named Gnoss the state’s Judicial Officer of the Year for all he does to help ensure the success of young people who break the law, pay a price for it and then are given a chance through probation to demonstrate that they can be trusted to do right.

In honoring Gnoss, currently presiding judge of the juvenile court, the state’s chief probation officers noted that in recent years “Sonoma County has been plagued by multiple disasters.”

Most recently, the Glass fire forced the evacuation of the Juvenile Justice Center at Los Guilicos. Early in 2017, severe flooding along the Russian River brought the rescue by boat of 14 teens and two adult staffers of the county probation camp near Forestville.

“Even when our youth are spread across multiple counties due to evacuations,” the award citation observes, “Judge Gnoss vigorously ensures each youth gets their day in court, even if it is virtual.”

Probation chiefs noted also that among the judge’s most notable successes “is the humanizing connection he makes with youth who appear in his court, and the genuine interest he takes in each youth’s journey along the path of rehabilitation.”

"I’m very blessed,“ Gnoss told me Wednesday. He said he received the statewide honor because of the work done by an entire team of people committed to Sonoma County’s juvenile justice system.


JUST THE FAX: Late Santa Rosa attorney Ed Anderson was no doubt frequently the smartest person in the room, but perhaps never the most tech-savvy.

Electronic gadgets weren’t of keen interest to Ed, who was born in 1931 and died on Nov. 29, just six days after the passing of his wife of almost 65 years, Jeanne Anderson.

The loss of them both has lots of people hereabout mourning but also enjoying a multitude of memories. In one, from the summer of 1988, Ed worked especially late at his law offices one Friday night.

A legal agreement was ready to be completed with some Japanese businesspeople in Hawaii. They signed the documents, then faxed them to Anderson Zeigler.

It was after hours in California, so Ed was at the law firm alone. He told his counterparts in Hawaii he would go pull the papers from the fax machine.

He was exasperated when sometime later he told the group in Hawaii he was sorry, but he could locate no faxes. OK, they said, they will resend.

Ed went again to find them. Nothing, he told the Japanese people who no doubt were eager to wrap up the deal and go treat themselves to dinner on Waikiki.

They announced they would fax the documents yet again. Ed checked the document tray again. Zilch.

I don’t know how long that went on, or how it was that Ed came to discover at last that the newfangled office contraption he’d been checking was not Anderson Zeigler’s state-of-the-art fax machine but the Xerox copier.

You can reach Staff Writer Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 and

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

The Press Democrat
Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Sonoma County Gazette