“I am Jennifer. I am an elf, and I work for Santa.”
That was Jennifer Cullenbine’s first call 32 years ago to a 4-year-old in East Palo Alto to see what he wanted for Christmas.
Louis asked for pillows. He and his mother had been sleeping on the floor at his grandmother’s place, and a comfortable pillow was more appealing than the popular Ninja Turtle toy.
Since she talked to Louis, Cullenbine’s nonprofit Family Giving Tree has been collecting up to 80,000 wishes per year from local residents in need. A plenitude of Barbie dolls, large-print books and educational games have been delivered across nine Bay Area counties.
The Milpitas Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 21 named Cullenbine “Citizen of the Year,” an honor bestowed annually on residents who regularly give back to the community through volunteerism and philanthropy.
Family Giving Tree helps families clear financial hurdles through its back-to-school and holiday wish drives. Hundreds of agencies partner with Cullenbine to support these efforts.
Cullenbine says she believes that giving is as rewarding as receiving, and that Family Giving Tree’s volunteers are benefiting from the program and embracing its values as much as the children, adults and seniors who receive the gifts. Often, she adds, former recipients become volunteers in the warehouse where donations are sorted and wrapped.
For information on donating or volunteering, visit