Get into the Holiday Spirit With Severns-Pease Light Display Video


The most popular post on Good Neighbor Stories is from two years ago about Dave Severns and his Severns-Pease Christmas Display in Sunnyvale. During the 2010 holiday season alone, Dave raised $84,000 for Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties, $4,000 over Dave’s goal for the year, and nearly $30,000 over the previous year.

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Dave passed away in October 2011 from cancer, and the family opted to not continue the popular—and labor intensive—display of 88,000 lights. His legacy lives on, however; a group of friends launched a golf tournament in his name this year, to benefit Second Harvest. Last year this website launched a virtual food drive in his memory, raising nearly $1,400. We’re repeating the drive again this year; I hope you’ll consider donating to help end hunger in Silicon Valley.

The display is also featured in the Good Neighbor Stories 2013 Datebook, with photos provided by the Severns family, and a story about Dave.

Did you ever see the Severns-Pease Christmas Display in person? Share your memories with us in comments!

Buy a Christmas Tree, Help Others; Our Map Shows You Where to Shop


If you’re planning on buying a fresh Christmas tree this season, why not purchase one that not only brings cheer to your family, but to many others in the community? We’ve compiled information of where some of the charity lots around the San Francisco Bay Area are located, and put together a handy interactive Google map to help you find one near you.

While most of the lots on the map are operated by nonprofits and will be open for the next few weeks, two lots are commercial ones hosting fundraisers the first weekend in December. Peacock Tree Farm in Los Gatos is having a special event on Saturday, Dec. 1, for the Loma Prieta Public Education Fund, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. In San Martin Battaglia Ranch is hosting the annual Trees for Troops program Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 1 and 2. See the map for more details.

Did we miss a Christmas tree lot helping others this year? Share the information with us in the comments, and we’ll add it to the map.

View Christmas Tree Lots For Good 2012 in a larger map

We’re Kicking Off Our Second Annual Virtual Food Drive!


I’m proud to announce that for the second year in a row, Good Neighbor Stories is hosting a virtual food drive for Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties. Last year we raised almost $1,400 to feed local hungry families and individuals, exceeding our $1,000 goal. This year the goal is to raise $1,500 between now and Jan. 1, 2013.

Second Harvest officials estimate that they help one person out of every 10 in Silicon Valley. The organization does an efficient job of helping those hungry people: for every $1 donated, officials estimate that two meals are provided.

The efficiency extends to the online donation process, which was streamlined considerably this year. Last year’s process was a little more cumbersome, but Second Harvest apparently listened to input and made necessary improvements to the system.

To donate to the Good Neighbor Stories Virtual Food Drive, go to our donor page and fill out the form. The whole thing takes only a minute or two. Any amount is greatly appreciated, and will make a difference in the lives of local hungry families.

This year I’m offering an incentive to the first 10 people willing to donate $100 or more to the virtual food drive. Email me a copy of your receipt, and in return I’ll send you a thank you gift of the Good Neighbor Stories 2013 Datebook, free of charge. You’ll feel good about helping others, and all throughout next year using the datebook.

Please consider making a donation today. Thank you!

Here Comes “Giving Tuesday,” a Day of Charity to Follow Buying Frenzy


It was, perhaps, inevitable that someone would follow up Thanksgiving weekend’s “Black Friday,” “Small Business Saturday,” and “Cyber Monday,” with a day devoted to charity. This year someone has, with “Giving Tuesday.” The first one takes place tomorrow, Nov. 27.

Giving Tuesday is the brainchild of the 92nd Street Y in New York City, which was joined in the effort by the United Nations Foundation, along with numerous corporations and nonprofits. The idea is a simple one: “find a way for your family, your community, your company or your organization to come together to give something more.” Part two of the idea is to then share with others how you are giving back to the community.

More than 2,000 nonprofits around the country signed up as Giving Tuesday parters, including hundreds in the state of California. Some are planning special events to mark the day, and many are kicking off fundraising campaigns for projects. A number of businesses are agreeing to increase giving, or match donations, made on the day.

What do you think about Giving Tuesday as a new holiday tradition? Tell us in the poll!

Will you participate in Giving Tuesday?

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The New Datebook is Here! The New Datebook is Here!*


On Friday I got to hold in my hands a printed copy of the Good Neighbor Stories 2013 Datebook. It was an exciting moment, the culmination of a lot of discussions and work over the past year.

The datebook looks really beautiful, thanks to Design Action Collective in Oakland, and Inkworks Press in Berkeley, brought on board to the project by publishers Craig Wiesner and Derrick Kikuchi at Reach and Teach.

We printed a limited number of these books, so don’t get left behind! They make awesome holiday gifts for folks who still use paper calendars (you can probably think of some of them right now).

Beyond acting as a calendar, the datebook would also make a wonderful place to write down goals and intentions, or as a gratitude journal. It’s full of upbeat, positive stories and photographs, which will brighten anyone’s day.

By buying the Good Neighbor Stories 2013 Datebook, you’re also supporting Bay Area-based small businesses, and you’re helping to spread the word about the terrific people and organizations featured within.

You can find out more, as well as order copies, at the Reach and Teach website.

* A nod to Steve Martin’s “The Jerk”.  

Five Ways to be a Good Neighbor at Thanksgiving


It’s the Thanksgiving edition of our “Five Ways to be a Good Neighbor” series, with five suggestions of how you can be be a good neighbor in honor of one of America’s most treasured holidays. What better way to show how thankful you are by paying it forward to someone else?

1. Donate a Turkey – Today!: The latest news is that there is a serious turkey shortage at food banks and organizations around the Bay Area that provide the traditional bird to families in need. On Tuesday, Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties announced it was nearly 6,000 turkeys short of its goal of 12,000 donations. Sacred Heart Community Services in San Jose said it needed nearly 4,000 more turkeys. To donate, buy frozen and deliver (still frozen) to the agency of your choice. See the bottom of this post for a list of groups asking for donations. And don’t forget these agencies also need non-perishable fixings to go with the turkey, so consider an additional donation of some canned goods.

2. Invite an “Orphan” to Dinner: Set an extra place at the table for someone you know is going to be alone this Thanksgiving. Make them feel welcome and part of the celebration.

3. Mend a Relationship: Don’t go through another holiday harboring hard feelings toward a family member, close friend or neighbor. Offer a sincere apology, if necessary, and work toward forgiving past transgressions. Don’t try to control the outcome of your interactions; just focus on the good, and let go of any expectations. [Read more…]

Long List of Local Agencies Needing Holiday Help


If you’re looking for ways to help those in need this holiday season, the San Jose Mercury News recently published a list of more than 25 organizations and agencies requesting the public’s help.

The groups were asking for everything from cash donations, to gift cards, food, clothing, blankets, unwrapped toys, and even things like gift wrap and bows.

For example, groups and agencies like Asian Americans for Community Involvement (AACI), the City of Saratoga, the Gardner Family Care Corporation, the Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley, and Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County are in need of new, unwrapped toys, books, and other gifts.

The Bill Wilson Center needs lots of gift cards to give to the youth in their program. Many of the teens and young adults don’t get to go shopping very often for something new, and gift cards allow them to get the size, style, and color of the things they need and want most.

Family Supportive Housing is seeking donations of new pillows and blankets (both twin and full sizes), new socks and underwear for children, as well as unwrapped toys and gift cards. Alum Rock Counseling Center could use not only toys and bikes for approximately 200 children, leaders are also asking for donations of large rolls of wrapping paper, tape, ribbons and bows, baskets, tinned cookies, candy, bottled water, and more.

See the complete list for more information. If you know of additional holiday donation opportunities in the San Francisco Bay Area, please tell us in comments.




It’s World Kindness Day! What Will You do to be Kind?


Today around the world people are celebrating World Kindness Day, part of World Kindness Week, Nov. 12-18. What will you do to be

Courtesy of the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation

kind to someone else today, or during this special week?

Here are five ways to show kindness today, and throughout the week:

  1. Do something simple today, like smiling at people you pass by, letting someone in on the roadway, contacting a friend going through a tough time to offer a cheery “hello”, or offering to pay the meal of the person behind you in the drive through lane. For even more kindness ideas, see the Good Neighbor Stories Be Kind: Kindness Ideas Page.
  2. Donate food for a holiday food drive, or support a local hunger program. Look for donation barrels for Second Harvest Food Bank at area stores and businesses, or consider donating a frozen turkey for Thanksgiving.  The Front Door Ministry of the First Presbyterian Church of San Jose serves bag lunches to around 45 homeless people each day.  You can help by donating things like paper and plastic bags, or individual-sized lunch items like sandwich cracker kits, fruit cups, bags of nuts, etc. [Read more…]

Beautiful Day “Mini-Me” Open to Volunteers on Nov. 17


The nonprofit group Beautiful Day is looking for volunteers on Saturday, Nov. 17, for the autumn “mini” version of its massive springtime service event in San Jose.

The group organized six volunteer projects for the upcoming weekend; two are already full to capacity with volunteers. At the two full projects volunteers are making over a local elementary school and caring for the roses at San Jose’s beloved Municipal Rose Garden.

The remaining open projects include:

  • Painting big, colorful playground maps of the United States at four area elementary schools, two in Sunnyvale and two in Santa Clara. There are two shifts available , 8 a.m. to 12 noon, and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. The project is open to all ages.
  • Cleaning up and helping out neighbors in the immediate area of Westgate Church in San Jose; there are two shifts, 8 a.m. to noon, and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. The project is open to ages 13 and up.
  • Picking up trash on the area’s freeways on Saturday morning. This is for ages 18 and up only.
  • Adopting families for Christmas. Rather than a specific project this weekend, Beautiful Day is looking for people to help sponsor needy families in the area for the holidays.

For more information on the projects and how to sign up, see the Beautiful Day website. And check out the Good Neighbor Stories Beautiful Day Page, with links to all of our past stories about the group.


Good Neighbors Vote


Editor’s Note: This is a version of a post I did in October. California residents, if you still need information on voting, go to the Secretary of State website information page. 

I spend a lot of time at Good Neighbor Stories working to inspire people to be better neighbors, not just in the literal sense of proximity on our own blocks, but in the global sense of how our actions ripple out through our communities and the rest of the world. What we do—or don’t do—has very real impact, even if we don’t perceive it. And while I haven’t said it explicitly, I do imply in my writings that being a good neighbor equals being a good citizen.

In this age of  up to half or more of the eligible voters not exercising the right to vote, this may seem like a bold, or even naive, claim: good neighbors/citizens vote. It is a right, but it’s also a responsibility. And with that responsibility comes some preparation so that the vote you make is an informed one.

Here are several basic reminders of why it’s important to vote:

  • A democracy works best when everyone participates. We are electing people to represent us at all levels of government; those representatives will make very real decisions which will impact our everyday lives. If we don’t participate, at best we are taking the risk that those who do not represent our views or needs will be elected; at worst we are opening the door to those who want to manipulate or dominate the process to the benefit of the few.
  • Your right to vote was hard won. As a nation we’ve fought hard for a representative government and the right to vote; our troops throughout history have fought and died to protect that right. In addition, there are forefathers and foremothers who fought for women and minorities to be able to vote, a fact that should not be taken for granted.
  • Your vote does matter. My family would attest to me being a bit of a broken record whenever I hear someone say, “My vote [Read more…]