An odd thing was happening Saturday at North Shoreview Elementary school in San Mateo.
Some 200 families were expected to show up at a food distribution event meant to help stock their holiday pantries. But for most of the morning, more volunteers than clients roamed the school's gym, eager to help those in need.
The Li Family was there, this being their third year to volunteer.
"It's definitely the season to help," says Sylvia Li. "My father was in the hospital over Thanksgiving, and I did suggest to my children 'Maybe we will scale back a little on the volunteering this season' and my kids wouldn't let me do it. They said 'Oh mom, we really want to do it', so here we are."
Volunteer Joyce Ferguson showed up for the first shift. "Life has been good to me, and I want to give back to someone else," she says.
San Mateo's Samaritan House does four food distributions during the holiday season; this was the first for the month of December.
Clients pre-register, show up, and wander the gym, set up like a mercado - or market - choosing from fresh and canned fruits and vegetables, turkey and chicken, grains and dairy.
The clients come from all walks of life. "Some have fallen victim to the housing crisis, or job crunch, or medical debt, or anything that's going to make them in need of extra assistance," says Melissa Moss, the Samaritan House Holiday Program Coordinator. "I feel a lot of compassion."
"It's tough times right now," says Ferguson. "My heart goes out to them. If I can put a smile on my face, and help wherever I can help, I'm all for it."
Samaritan House has seen a 10 percent increase in requests for assistance this year. "I think with a lot of downsizing, with a lot of outsourcing, I just think we're trying to funnel too many people into too few jobs," says Moss.
Next week, Moss expects a much larger client turnout for an event that will include a family harvest, a food distribution, a toy distribution, and food deliveries. "It's probably going to be the pinnacle of the holiday program."
Once again, there will be plenty of volunteers to help.
Joyce Ferguson may come back. "Any time, anywhere. I've been blessed, so I want to bless other people."
"Personally," says Moss, "it makes me very grateful for all that I do have in my life. I live as simply as possible and I realize that's enough."
Samaritan House is located at 4031 Pacific Blvd. in San Mateo. You can reach them at 650-341-4081.