By Rachel Wulff

MODESTO (CBS13) — A holiday fundraiser at Modesto’s Vintage Faire Mall needs a little help. A lack of volunteers is presenting a problem filling in where Santa leaves off.

This Christmas tree inside the mall has been a time-honored tradition for 37 years.

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“It started at a radio station with 100 kids, and we annually take 2,500 names now and bring Christmas to these children who would not have anything for Christmas,” said JoAnn Found, president of Soroptimist International of Modesto.

Soroptimist International has been handling it for nearly a quarter-century. Found says schools and service agencies provide a list of tags with the name of a child in need.

“The people pull the tag and they take that tag and they check it out at our kiosk, they take it, go shopping and bring back everything unwrapped and we process it and take it from there and get it to the child,” she said.

In 2020, COVID-19 closed the mall, so there was no physical tree, but the agency was still able to serve 1,500 children. This year, donations have dropped slightly, but the bigger issue is volunteers.

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“We have probably the need for about 500 volunteer shifts and we have 3 shifts a day with 2-4 people on a shift,” Found said.

Modesto Sunrise Rotary, which stepped in to help in 2019, is seeing a similar problem.

“This year, coming back in, a lot don’t have the training or had just started training,” said Jeeni Casey with Sunrise Rotary. “So it has been a little bit of a challenge to get people to volunteer.”

Found finds volunteers who are seniors, are hesitant to return to the mall, and many others have opted to donate online. All are great ways to help in case gifts don’t get selected or if tags aren’t returned.

“That money gives us the chance to build an inventory so we can support all of the children that are on the tree. Because we guarantee every child will get gifts,” Found said.

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Now, both organizations are hoping more will branch out to be part of the community Christmas tree that has served so many in the past.