Fresno Pacific University has organized two efforts to brighten the Christmas season for California’s Central Valley.
“Making Spirits Bright” was as good as its name for an estimated 1,100 people December 4 and 5, 2020.
FPU’s first drive-through Christmas experience drew more than 320 cars, vans, SUVs and even a fire truck to the main campus, 1717 S. Chestnut Ave., Fresno, between 6:00-8:00 p.m. the two evenings. Visitors drove a route through the campus and neighborhood, enjoying light displays, music, the site of the coming Culture and Arts Center and a wave at alumni, staff, Sunny the Sunbird, FPU cheerleaders and President Joseph Jones and First Lady Yvette Jones.
Until supplies ran out the second night, participants also came away with swag including kids’ games and Bundt cakes. In return, many made donations of canned food items for the Sunbird Food Pantry. Several local TV stations also covered the event.
A good time was had by all, according to Don Griffith, vice president of advancement and executive director of the FPU Foundation, whose department organized the event.
“It was so good to see all those smiles. We were hoping for maybe 500 people per night, so this was a success,” he said. “Fresno Pacific is a part of this community, and we just wanted to reach out in love and fellowship to show there is joy this season, even with all we have gone through together in 2020.”
Christmas cheer for veterans is the goal of an effort by Fresno Pacific University staff.
“Operation Dear Veteran…” is the brainchild of Denise Baronian, executive director of regional enrollment. The idea is to provide at least 500 Christmas cards, one for every bed at Fresno VA Medical Center and the Veterans Home of California—Fresno.
“Of course, we would like to surpass that amount so that we could reach even more,” Baronian says.
FPU has about 100 students who are veterans of the U.S. military.
“We are also regularly connecting with veteran resource centers at area community colleges to let them know we care about our veteran students and work closely with them to make sure they succeed,” Baronian says.
David Black, FPU veteran outreach and student service coordinator, and others work to make sure they are served and feel included by the university. Black, who is also the State Commander for AMVETS Department of California, has volunteered at Fresno VA Medical Center and knows how many local hospitalized veterans are alone at this time of year.
“Christmas and the holiday season can be a lonely time for many, especially for veterans,” Black says. “Usually this time of year brings the community out to be with our veterans that are hospitalized, but with the challenges of COVID we are all navigating now, this simple—amazing gesture will be meaningful to our veterans. I am honored to be a part this.”
Cards, including notes and letters of encouragement, will be collected through December 20 and delivered the next day. Patients and residents will find the greetings on their food trays delivered to their rooms.
Baronian, who founded the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans event for the Central Valley in partnership with AMVETS Department of California and the Fresno Grizzlies, hopes the project will show that FPU values veterans and serve its community, especially those alone during the pandemic and the holidays.
“I thought this project would serve a population of our community that is often forgotten. It was a way to serve others as well as giving our regional team an opportunity to include their families by making and writing cards,” Baronian says.
Faculty and staff at each of FPU’s five campuses—Merced, North Fresno, the main campus in Southeast Fresno (including Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary), Visalia and Bakersfield—have been asked to help. Volunteers are encouraged to include neighbors, family, children and grandchildren. Baronian’s first two cards were made by her two- and four-year-old grandchildren.