North Bay non-profit making holidays brighter for single moms

A North Bay non-profit is making the holidays brighter for single moms.

The "Sparkle Project" began in one woman's home 18 years ago, and has now spread across California.

"You want to say 'yes' to everybody and I think that's the hardest part of our job is honing in on where we can have the most impact," said founder Samantha Tradelius.

Friday evening, Tradelius and a dozen volunteers organized gifts in a Novato warehouse, from sporting goods to toys, clothing to cosmetics.  

They worked from a Christmas list on a clipboard, with the names of 63 single mothers on it.

Adding their children and other live-in relatives, the number in line for help topped 175.

The recipients are referred from the community.

"Her husband left and she is raising 3 boys working long hours and multiple jobs," read Tradelius from one mother's nomination. "She cries often and when I see her she is so overwhelmed,"

On Saturday, the woman in that nomination and dozens of others will receive gifts for themselves and their families.

The new items will be wrapped and delivered in time for them to create holiday fun with loved ones.

"Usually they're able to pay the bills, but Christmas is just not going to happen," explained Tradelius.

"It's too much, it's too stressful, so we can come in and provide what we do."

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For a few months, Sparkle volunteers have been shopping and collecting in-kind donations from local businesses to fulfill the wish-lists.

Each household has a story board with the names, ages, and preferences of each member, plus clothes and shoe sizes.

"We ask our officers if they have any families to recommend, if they've been in homes where they see a need," said Lt. Sophia Winter of the Novato Police Dept., which helps deliver gifts in patrol cars.

"Sparkle is unique because it's all volunteer-based and all of the money they collect goes 100 percent to the people they serve."

In addition to hand-picked presents, the moms receive baskets of food and toiletries.

Throughout the year, they can apply for enrichment scholarships for tutoring, sports, or arts classes, and a backpack giveaway helps launch each new school year.

"It was nice to know there were other people thinking about us," said former recipient Sophia Osotio of Novato.

"I mean, as single moms, who's out there shopping for us?" she joked.

Last Christmas, Osotio was recovering from brain aneurysm surgery and the loss of vision in her right eye.

She had also been laid-off from her job with Marriott Hotels due to pandemic downturns.

Osotio was surprised when she and daughter Maliyah, 9, were "adopted" by Sparkle 

"These angels showed up and brought us gifts, things we didn't even know we wanted," recalled Osotio, "new pots and pans and a bike and our tree was filled with gifts, it was amazing."

This year, Osotio is back on her feet, working full-time as a notary.

She is giving-back as a Sparkle volunteer, sorting and wrapping gifts for a new round of recipients.

On delivery day, throngs of helpers showed up to get everything ready and distributed across the Bay Area.

"The people who are in need are not different from us," said Fr. John Kocolas, Pastor of Nativity of Christ Greek Orthodox Church in Novato.

The church has partnered with Tradelius since she formed the non-profit Sparkle Foundation about 6 years ago.

"Spreading joy and love at Christmas, it's just phenomenal," said Kocolas, who notes the purchases are accompanied by compassion.  

"Spending time with them, it really is a holistic approach to helping, not just give something, but to really build a relationship with someone in need."

Founder Tradelius is a married mom of two who works in the insurance industry. 

Originally from Southern California, she is proud to have Sparkle divisions in Los Angeles, the Inland Empire, and Sacramento, with hopes to expand further.

"I mean it takes a lot to make this happen, but when it does come together it's pretty cool," she laughed.

And her organization's name, she said, came easily.

"There's a look in their eye when they see the gifts, and also a feeling you get when you're doing this, it's a sparkle."