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The Family Giving Tree

ABC7 Salutes

It's a sad fact of Bay Area life that every holiday season thousand of families can't afford presents for their children. For more than a decade, an army of South Bay volunteers has made sure many of those kids do get gifts. In this ABC7 Salute, Dan Ashley looks at how this gift giving empire started.

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  • With less than two weeks until Christmas, these Santa's helpers are busy wrapping presents for needy children.

    In the next few days, they hope this huge warehouse will fill up with thousands more gifts.

    Jennifer Cullenbine, The Family Giving Tree: "The generosity of the community, it's incredible. What I have learned more than anything else is that people will give if you ask them."

    The warehouse is run by a group called The Family Giving Tree. It was started by Jennifer Cullenbine when she was in business school at San Jose State. Jennifer had a seen a Christmas tree in a mall with cards from low-income children asking for holiday gifts. She wrote a school paper about how to expand the program.

    Cullenbine: "It just made sense to me to go to corporate America and say, 'Hewlett Packard, will you hang these wish cards up and have your employees who have jobs and can afford these things to buy the gifts for the needy kids in the area.'"

    Jennifer got a B- on her paper, and was told her idea would never work. But she was determined to try. After almost 100 companies turned her down, she finally got some, including Hewlett Packard, to say yes.

    Cullenbine: "We had 28 companies have giving trees and we helped 4,000 kids that first year."

    Fourteen years later, The Family Giving Tree has 800 Bay Area companies donating more than 50,000 gifts.

    This group is from National Semiconductor, which sponsors employee shopping sprees. Employees pick the children's names and requests off the tree, then head out around the store to choose the gifts.

    Ajay Padgaonkar, National Semiconductor: "Oh, it's giving back, this is Christmas time. This is giving back to the community. It's good to be doing this.))

    For every two gifts an employee buys, their boss buys a third.

    Ildiko Kapin, National Semiconductor: "Needy families, children in our community, that's my Christmas."

    The Family Giving Tree brings in even more gifts through a partnership with Wells Fargo Bank. Almost every Bay Area branch has a tree.

    Gina Williams, Wells Fargo: "My first year, I was really amazed when I saw customers come in. It was a week before Christmas with grocery carts filled with Christmas gifts for the kids."

    Now another partnership is taking the giving operation high tech. Josh McFarland was a student at Stanford when he picked a name off a giving tree, and suddenly he had an idea.

    Josh McFarland: "I realized that this is something that just needs to be done on the Internet, so I drove straight back to the dorm room. We plotted it out and in the course of about four weeks we had built the Web site, gotten all the toys and gotten all the sponsors."

    The Web site is called My Two Front Teeth.

    Josh McFarland: "We could not find a name. Every Internet address you could think of was taken … wish tree, giving, toys for children, everything you could think of. And it just sort of hit me, 'all I want for Christmas is, all I want for Christmas is

    With a few simple clicks you can choose a child, buy a gift and fill a wish without ever even going to a store.

    Josh McFarland: "We are tapping into a whole set of people that actually just give online because they didn't have time before or they didn't think about it before."

    The children choose their gifts out of a catalog.

    These four-year-olds attend a pre-school for very low-income children in San Jose. Some might not get a gift without the Web site donations. Now, thanks to, the presents are being delivered on Monday. The kids can't wait.

    And so ABC7 Salutes Jennifer Cullenbine and Josh McFarland and the thousands of other volunteers who are making needy children's wishes come true for the holidays.

    How To Help
    There are still many more wishes to be filled. If you'd like to get a gift for a low-income child, you can find a Family Giving Tree at almost every Wells Fargo Bank or visit (Click here for a complete list of locations.)

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