December 24, 2013
I Care: Bringing Christmas to families of troops

troops hug.jpg Reflections of Christmas lights twinkle in puddles of water that will soon freeze to black ice. Rodney Stanhope warms his hands on the propane heater given to him by his wife as an early Christmas gift. He sits under an Army canopy in a makeshift base, flanked by armored military vehicles in the Market Square parking lot at Arden Fair Mall. Powered by a generator, his DJ sound system plays techno music and the obligatory Christmas songs.
As he's done every December for the past ten years, Navy veteran is camped out in a shed for 12 days in the mall parking lot until Dec 22, accepting toys and donations for Yellow Ribbon America's Operation Christmas For Our Troops & Their Families. The national nonprofit gives gifts to families of soldiers who are deployed or experiencing hardship. "They're over there fighting for our freedom," says Stanhope. "I get to go home to my kids on Christmas day."

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December 24, 2013
I Care: Crafting warmth for newborns

BABY HATS 3.jpg Marian Thompson sits in her floral armchair, gently tugging on a spool of yarn. Her purple needles work in harmony, stitching a fluffy white baby cap with green Christmas trees and red stripes. At 96, her hands ache with arthritis but she rarely stops to rest them.
She knits more baby caps than any member of the Kiddie Kaps knitting group at Eskaton Village in Carmichael. Over a two-month period, most members average 15 to 20 baby caps, but Thompson brings 88 hats with her to the December meeting. Her personal count is 4,226 caps since she joined the Eskaton knitters in 2006. Beverly Bruns, the group's leader says they've donated over 20,000 baby caps since 2004, bringing comfort to area newborns at Sutter General and Mercy Hospital in Sacramento. "A lot of times, I say a little prayer when I'm knitting the cap," says Thompson, "(I'm) thinking 'I hope this cap blesses a baby and keeps its little head warm.'"


December 24, 2013
I Care: Woodcrafters' gifts shipshape for area toy drive

I CARE TOYS 2.jpg If it weren't for his average build and perfectly normal ears, one might mistake Joe Orbeck for one of Santa's elves, as he tools around making wooden toys in his home workshop in Gold River. With the smell of sawdust lingering in the air, he adds a handcrafted plane to a table filled with brightly painted toys: tugboats that come apart into puzzle pieces, trucks and hot rods painted with flames and sitting lined up as if wanting to race. Orbeck, 66, is the incoming vice president of the Sacramento Area Woodworkers (SAW). He has made more than 80 toys throughout the year. In total, SAW members will donate 1,500 woodcrafted toys to the Salvation Army's toy drive. The toys will be among those given away to needy Sacramento families at the Salvation Army's annual Christmas Distribution of toys and food boxes at Cal Expo on Dec. 23. "It's a little bit of self-actualization," says Orbeck. "Taking a piece of wood and coming up with this."