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Big Day of Giving: Building a Better Sacramento

The Big Day of Giving on May 4 is your chance to put your stamp on the region’s future.


Artist’s conceptual rendering of the new Sacramento Zoo. Final design subject to change.

Mark your calendar. Sacramento’s 11th annual Big Day of Giving is around the corner. May 4 to be exact. It’s our communal moment to help build a better Sacramento.


Last year, Sacramentans donated $13 million to local charities. This year (a tough one financially for families and charities alike), coordinators at Sacramento Region Community Foundation say they sense people will top that amount.


“We don’t have Fortune 500 companies here,” director Kerry Wood says, “so the majority of our giving comes from individuals. Sacramentans have been generous. We are a community that cares about helping others and forging a brighter future for all.”


The community foundation was launched 40 years ago to inspire philanthropy year-round in Sacramento. Big Day of Giving, though, is the spotlight moment, he only day, in fact, that many small local charities formally ask for donations.


Your options for giving are many. Some 700 charities with needs are listed on the foundation’s website. To give you a sense, here’s a look at a few of them, and what’s on their wish lists this year.


Fairytale Town: A Whimsical Place With Serious Ambitions

The newly completed Story Center.

Fairytale Town, the beloved 64-year-old storybook park for children, is widening its welcome. The William Land Park venue has launched a multiyear effort to mold itself into a more culturally inclusive educational park to reach an increasingly diverse Sacramento.


CULTURAL INCLUSIVITY: The park was founded with a European folklore theme. Now, it has added an Anansi’s Web play set based on a popular African folktale, and officials plan play sets from Mexican, Chinese and Native American literary traditions.


THE ASK: Big Day of Giving donations will allow the park to host more literacy-based multicultural events at the park’s new Story Center, such as the recent Chinese New Year story readings. The park also is looking for funds to diversify its theater program and to help care for its coterie of barnyard animals.


WHAT WON’T CHANGE: In one way, Fairytale Town remains adamantly un-modern. It is designed to be an escape from the digital world of computer screens and smartphones, and an oasis from adult-organized and directed activities. Here, children use their imaginations to create their own play experiences, partnering with playmates. Park director Kevin Smith-Fagan calls that type of play “advanced problem solving” that teaches kids skills they will use in the grown-up world.


A SERIOUS EDUCATION: Fairytale Town is, yes, whimsical, but don’t let that fool you. The education it offers is more relevant than ever, Smith-Fagan says. “This is a child development center. Kids create the narrative. It gives me hope the fundamentals of imagination and creativity are still hard-wired into our kids. Problem solving later in life comes from the ability to think novelly.”


Sacramento Zoo: Support Your Local Giraffe

Artist’s conceptual rendering. Final design subject to change.

The nearly century-old Sacramento Zoo in William Land Park is a local institution, home to 500 animals including a new celebrity: a baby giraffe born in January. But the animals and visitors are packed into an antiquated 14.7-acre site. Zoo director Jason Jacobs says the zoo desperately needs more elbow room.


BIG PLANS: The Sacramento Zoological Society is laying plans for a far larger and more modern zoo in Elk Grove, one that will offer visitors a “transformative” experience. Jacobs’ dream: Sacramento would boast the best zoo per acre in the United States, hosting 1 million visitors a year.


THE ASK: The nonprofit zoo society will need millions of dollars over time to make that happen. This year’s Big Day of Giving is a start, says Jacobs. Any contribution of any size helps, he adds. “We got $100,000 last year. We’d love to see it double this year.”


ZOO’S PITCH TO YOU: “Our region needs a new zoo that can care for populations of rare species as well as provide a unique and wonderful educational experience . . . helping foster a meaningful and inspiring connection with animals, and empathy and care in people.”


THE GIRAFFES: The zoo’s logo animal is suffering what biologists call a silent extinction in the wild. “People aren’t aware,” Jacobs laments. The zoo’s plan is to highlight its giraffe herd and other herbivores as the centerpiece of the new zoo in a state-of-the-art savannah-like domain. “We want to inspire a million people a year to make a difference for the giraffes,” says Jacobs.


Clinica Tepati: Shoestring Budgets and Boot-Strap Health Care

Alejandra Romo (left) at Clinica Tepati health center. Photo by Beth Baugher.

Launched by UC Davis students, Clinica Tepati health center has for decades quietly filled a health care gap for lower-income families in the Sacramento region, many of them workers in the agriculture and service sectors. College student volunteers, some training to be doctors, conduct free health assessments and offer wellness education to all comers. They’re overseen by UC Davis Medical Center doctors and retired physicians who serve as on-site proctors.


THE ASK: The clinic in downtown Sacramento is open one day a week—Saturday—and is run on a shoestring. Donations will help support basic costs, including screenings for diabetes, hypertension and cholesterol. The clinic also needs funding for its nutrition workshops, vaccine drives and the dental hygiene kits that it hands out to families.


DIABETES CRISIS: Diabetes disproportionately hits the Latino community, clinic student administrator Alejandra Romo says. The center wants to expand its diabetes awareness and education program this year with more intensive classes for people who are diabetic and prediabetic, to be taught by medical students, offering in essence a valuable learning experience for both workers and future doctors.


ALEJANDRA’S VIEW: Romo, 21, is among those future doctors. She plans to be a gynecologist. She has acted since age 10 as a translator when her Spanish-speaking parents have sought medical treatment. But more often, she has seen her parents forgo treatment, even when seriously ill, because they lacked insurance. “Many of us are privileged in having insurance, and we can’t see the impact of not having health care,” Romo says. “It’s important for us to make sure that health care is not a privilege but a right.”


Dress for Success Sacramento: Fairy Godmothers

Christina Catalan Laygo (far left) and Veronica Smith (far right) with clients. Photo by Beth Baugher.

Dress for Success Sacramento, a boutique tucked in a North Sacramento mall, performs the role of a modern-day fairy godmother. The nonprofit takes under its wing disadvantaged women who are entering the job market and provides them with an outfit to wear to job interviews, as well as training for interviews and access to a community support network.


WOMEN IN NEED: Clients often are single mothers. Some have escaped abusive relationships or were previously homeless. Some are returning to work after years away. “Women carry a lot of responsibility in families,” Dress for Success Sacramento founder Veronica Smith says. “When you help a woman, you have the ability to change the trajectory of her family and generations to come.”


THE OUTFITS: Referred from other agencies, clients meet at Dress for Success for a private fitting with volunteer stylists who assemble a job-interview outfit. If the woman lands a job, the agency provides her with a week’s worth of outfits. “It’s about confidence,” Smith says. “We make sure women are able to step into interviews and jobs feeling good about themselves.”


THE ASK: Dress for Success recently reopened after a pandemic-related closure. The agency is seeking funding to hire two employees, a job developer and an outreach coordinator.


THAT “OH MY!” MOMENT: The fitting can be a revelatory experience. And an emotional one. “We see their faces, their gratitude,” Smith says. “They look at themselves in the mirror and sometimes they cry. We put makeup on a 60-year-old woman for the first time in her life and she just cried. She said she never imagined herself looking this good.”


Iceland Ice Skating Rink: Skates, Sleds for Disadvantaged Kids

Iceland Ice Skating Rink before fire.

For seven decades, Iceland Ice Skating Rink on Del Paso Boulevard was part of the social fabric of old North Sacramento, a bustling, year-round center that hosted generations of families. In 2010, fire destroyed parts of the historic art deco building, notably the roof. The rink, now run by a nonprofit, has been fighting to make a comeback since.


NEW MISSION: The rink managed to reopen a few years ago during the winter months, but it shut down again during the COVID-19 pandemic. The nonprofit has found funds to replace the roof this year so the rink can reopen year-round. Now, the rink is looking for donations for skate programs for disadvantaged youth from the surrounding neighborhoods, which have become some of the least affluent in the city.


THE ASK: Iceland wants to buy 200 new pairs of skates, as well as 12 specialized sleds for disabled youth to play ice hockey. And it hopes to fully subsidize lessons for 100 youth per month at $60 per child. That includes free evening skates for students. The entity also needs to finish paying off a small business loan.


NEW HORIZONS: “We want to focus on helping kids learn to skate, whether they can afford it or not,” says rink operator Terrie Kerth. “Learning a skill and having fun in a safe family environment is so important. It’s amazing, the simple things, like doing a spin or skating backward, the smile you get from kids and even teenagers. It’s a physical, tangible accomplishment.”


LABOR OF LOVE: For Terrie and her brother Rob Kerth, it’s about community, family and tradition. Her grandfather built the rink next to his ice delivery company. They grew up here, as did many North Sacramentans. “We didn’t want it to die,” she says. “We needed the rink to come back. The community needs it.”


Alchemist Community Development Corporation: A Culinary Campus for Food Startups

Artist’s renderings of planned Alchemist Public Market.

Since its launch nearly two decades ago by UC Davis students, Alchemist Community Development Corporation has been working on creative ways to improve the economic and physical health of people in disadvantaged neighborhoods. That includes a food-business academy for local entrepreneurs. Now Alchemist says it’s time to up the ante with its most ambitious “food justice” program yet.


A FOOD-BUSINESS INCUBATOR: The nonprofit group plans to build Alchemist Public Market, a $9 million culinary campus north of downtown, to teach food entrepreneurs from disadvantaged communities how to turn dreams into sustainable businesses. The site is next to the emerging Mirasol Village, soon to be Sacramento’s largest affordable-housing community.


THE INGREDIENTS: The centerpiece of the campus will be a certified commercial kitchen that can accommodate up to 40 startup businesses at a time at affordable rents. There will be co-office space as well. A community cafe will train workers and offer space for startups to sell their products. There will be a weekly farmers market. The site also will house food pods, similar to food trucks, where entrepreneurs can launch businesses before taking them out to the community.


THE ASK: Alchemist has purchased the site and has support from local leaders to help with state and federal grant applications. For now, Alchemist is looking for seed money to help pay staff and administrative costs during the design and permitting process.


WHY NOW: The pandemic has upended Sacramento’s restaurant and commercial food industry. “It’s created an opportunity for a new wave of food service,” Alchemist executive director Sam Greenlee says. But small businesses struggle to find and pay for commercial kitchens. Alchemist will provide that, as well as guidance on business plans, marketing, permitting, packaging and food safety. Says Greenlee, “Connecting communities to food and opportunity: That is the heart of our mission.”


WANT TO GIVE, BUT NOT SURE WHERE? It’s easy to search online for charities whose work speaks to you personally.

Sacramento Region Community Foundation’s donation website, GivingEdge, allows you to sift through the many charities participating in this year’s Big Day of Giving. It’s at bigdayofgiving.org.


Scroll down the page and click on the centered teal blue tab entitled “Find A Cause.” That takes you to a page with a series of filters on the right side, allowing you to search charities by mission category, organization need, size, location and demographics served.


Going back to the main Big Day landing page, you can also click the “Get Involved” tab to look for volunteer opportunities.


Of note: You don’t have to wait until May 4 to participate. You can sign up anytime starting April 20 to have your gift registered on Big Day.

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