Crates of toiletries stacked up outside Homies Empowerment Freedom Store in Eastmont. Credit: Pete Rosos

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As we get into the final stretch of a winter holiday season majorly impacted by the pandemic, Oakland volunteer-run efforts and nonprofits that provide direct aid to community members want you to know that they’re still accepting in-kind or cash donations to help distribute toys, food, and other basic needs.

Some popular annual events like the OakLuv posada and Mistah F.A.B.’s downtown toy drive are largely happening virtually this year—but they’re still happening. And organizations like East Oakland Collective, CALMA, and Homies Empowerment are still distributing meals, hygiene kits, and more to communities most impacted by the health and economic risks of COVID-19.

We’ve rounded up a number of ongoing efforts below, and you reach us at hello@oaklandside.org to let us know of any ongoing winter toy, clothes, or food drives serving Oaklanders that we might have missed. 

Toy drives

OakLuv

Started by a local Santa Claus named Alex Cox and two friends, Alan “Chaz the Elf” Smith and Todd “Hot Toddy” Marshburn, OakLuv has been spreading cheer to Oakland families since 2008. Every December in Fruitvale, the team hosts a “posada,” a traditional Mexican holiday gathering, where they distribute food and toys and host rides for kids. This year, due to the pandemic, OakLuv was unable to host its yearly posada. Instead, for their annual holiday drive, people can choose to buy a toy for $30, sponsor a family to feed a family for $75, donate a kid’s bike and helmet for $150, or buy a laptop or sponsor a classroom for a higher donation of up to $500. Whatever you can support, it can be all done online. This Saturday, Dec. 20, from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., they are hosting an online “Xmas Toy Drive Twitch Party” with local DJs like MindMotion, DJ Umami, the Sazon Libre crew, and many others spinning virtually for this great cause. 

Dope Era

Fabby Davis Jr., also known as Mistah F.A.B., is a beloved rapper, organizer, and owner of the clothing store Dope Era in downtown Oakland. For the 16th year in a row, he will be hosting the annual Toys 4 Joy Christmas Drive, in which Mistah F.A.B. and a group of volunteers gather at 45th Street and Market to connect with families in need. This year, you can bring unwrapped toys to 4506 Market St. on Wednesday, Dec. 23, from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Or, you can give a monetary donation which will be used to purchase toys, food, and blankets. If you choose a monetary donation, you can send it via PayPal using the email address dabusride@gmail.com, Cashapp to $fabbydavisjr, or through Venmo to @dope-era. 

Postpartum Justice Project

This “mothers for mothers” organization’s main goal is to promote “postpartum justice” among Black, brown and indigenous communities. The group of volunteers comes together through community engagement and fundraising. This holiday, the organization is looking to support mothers who are part of the Beloved Birth Black Centering group at Highland Hospital. You can participate in their toy drive by making a donation online.

Organizations that directly connect people with food, clothing, and other basic needs

East Oakland Collective 

Started in 2016 by Oakland native Candice Elder, East Oakland Collective has a variety of programs that focus on economic empowerment, civic engagement, and homelessness services. The pandemic stalled their bimonthly Feed The Hood event, but the organization is still hosting services to support Oaklanders this holiday season. They distribute fresh and healthy catered meals, groceries, and sanitation, hygiene, and household supplies Monday through Friday from 12 to 3 p.m. You can also donate to their unhoused essential needs shopping list

The Village in Oakland 

Run for and by unhoused residents, the volunteer-run organization known as The Village was co-founded by housing activist Needa Bee, and has been advocating for the needs of Oakland’s unhoused community since December 2016. The Village hosts their Feed The People campaign every Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and distributes food to various homeless encampments. On Christmas and New Year’s Eve, they switch gears to providing meals to housed residents because, Bee says, the increased amounts of food distributed to homeless encampments during the holidays often goes to waste. You can donate funds here and contact Bee at 510-355-7010 for more details. 

Town Fridge 

This entirely volunteer-run effort to install fridges of free food around Oakland has expanded to over a dozen locations since we wrote about it in July. Anyone can leave food in the fridges, which are sometimes “hosted” by businesses that want to support the effort, and anyone can take food from them. According to donation guidelines, produce, pantry staples, bottled water, and prepared meals are encouraged. See a map of the fridges, and an update about the fridge located at Pro Arts downtown.

Homies Empowerment

Every Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Homies Empowerment runs a free store in deep East Oakland to encourage community self-sufficiency. Located at 7631 MacArthur Boulevard, the entirely free, volunteer-run, outdoor effort distributes food, toiletries, hygiene products, cleaning supplies, and more to anyone who needs them. You can donate to the Freedom Store through Venmo by sending a donation to Homies Empowerment’s fiscal sponsor, the Social Good Fund (@SocialGoodFund), and specifying that the donation is for Homies Empowerment.

Oakland At Risk 

Oakland At Risk was created by Krista Luchessi, who also runs a separate program that provides free groceries to 5,000 low-income seniors in Alameda County every month. The program matches a healthy adult volunteer under 60 with an elder or immunocompromised person who requires support, including meal delivery. They are also collecting monetary donations to provide gift cards to those families.

Black Cultural Zone 

Since 2014, The Black Cultural Zone Collaborative has worked with a coalition of residents, government agencies, churches, and grassroots organizing groups to help Black residents threatened by displacement in East Oakland. The organization is hosting a food and toy holiday giveaway this Friday, December 18th in collaboration with city councilmember Loren Taylor’s office, Feed My Sheep Food Pantry, and the Golden State Warriors. The drive will take place at BCZ’s Liberation Park at the corner of Foothill Boulevard and 73rd Avenue.

CALMA

A Bay Area volunteer-run organization that works with day laborers, DREAMers, migrants, and asylum seekers who need access to basic necessities, legal help, and more, CALMA has an online registry at Target to help them put together care packages for local day laborers. They’re collecting clothes, hygiene products, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, and other items.  

East Oakland Burrito Roll 

East Oakland Burrito Roll hosts events that have provided thousands of free burritos to unsheltered residents in East Oakland. They have launched a winter fundraiser to provide restaurant meals, dry goods, masks, water, shelter canopies, and naloxone, a medication that can treat opioid overdose in emergencies, to unsheltered people. EOBR is hosting drive-thru volunteer events where volunteers will load your car up with resources for distribution while you wait.

Alameda County Community Food Bank 

For over 30 years, the Alameda County Community Food Bank has been providing free healthy meals and pantry supplies. They partner with food pantries, hot meal programs, and other nonprofits to distribute food. The Food Bank is currently hosting a virtual food drive where people can donate money to pay for grocery items such as milk, eggs, and fruits and vegetables. They are also storing 3,000 emergency food bags filled with shelf-stable groceries. 

More food pantries and organization focusing on food insecurity around Oakland

Foodpantries.org maintains a list of food pantries and other organizations that focus on hunger in Oakland, Alameda County, and beyond.

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Azucena Rasilla is an East Oakland native, a bilingual journalist reporting in Spanish and in English, and a longtime reporter on Oakland arts, culture and community. As an independent local journalist, she has reported for KQED Arts, The Bold Italic, Zora and The San Francisco Chronicle. She was a writer and social media editor for the East Bay Express, helping readers navigate Oakland’s rich artistic and creative landscapes through a wide range of innovative digital approaches.

Ricky Rodas is a member of the 2020 graduating class of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. He has spent the last two years reporting on immigrant communities in the Bay Area as a reporter for the hyperlocal news sites Oakland North, Mission Local, and Richmond Confidential. Rodas, who is Salvadoran American and bilingual, joins us through a partnership with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. Rodas will be reporting on small and immigrant-owned businesses in Oakland.

Tasneem Raja is the Editor-in-Chief of The Oaklandside. A pioneer in data journalism and local nonprofit news startups, she co-founded The Tyler Loop, a nationally recognized community news platform in East Texas. She was a senior editor at NPR's Code Switch and at Mother Jones, where the team she led helped built the first-ever database of mass shootings in America. She started her career as features reporter at The Chicago Reader and The Philadelphia Weekly, and lives in Oakland with her husband and two imperious terriers.