BHF says Berkeley residents are generous by nature. Photo: Keoki Seu.

Over the next few days more than 850 Berkeley families will find a Holiday gift in their mailboxes — a check from the Berkeley Holiday Fund, an organization which has been providing such welcome surprises for an impressive 98 years.

Co-chair Linda Williams describes the Berkeley Holiday Fund as a kitchen-table charity. The fund sends out a single letter every year to a large, although not comprehensive, constituency of Berkeley residents, soliciting donations. The money collected goes directly to those in need. Recipients are nominated by local social service agencies, including Bananas, the Center for Independent Living, Head Start, the Over 60 Health Clinic, Berkeley Food and Housing Project, and the YMCA.

“This year, thanks to the generosity of Berkeley citizens, we were able to send checks to an elderly grandmother with multiple health problems who is raising four grandchildren, a homeless single mother living in a shelter with her young son after fleeing domestic violence, a young adult, former foster child, homeless and unable to find employment, and a deaf man suffering from isolation and depression,” she says.

Williams says in its early days, nearly a century ago, the fund would deliver food baskets. She is trying to widen the net of potential contributors — this year they mailed zip code 94705 for the first time — because much of the awareness comes through word of mouth.

Williams says she is always delighted with how generous people in Berkeley are. “After the 2004 tsunami and Hurricane Katrina many charities took a hit,” she said. “But in those years donations to the fund went up. Berkeleyans are wonderful at remembering local causes. It makes me feel good to be a resident of this city.”

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...