Jan Behrhorst – Christmas gifts for women in need
By Emily Sorensen
For longtime Poway resident Jan Behrhorst, Christmas lasts all year round, or at least the preparation does.
For the last 13 years, Behrhorst, a former biology, oceanography and zoology teacher at Poway High School who now runs an organizing business and occasionally works as a substitute teacher in the Poway Unified School District, has spent her year collecting everything from travel toiletries to Christmas cups, in order to assemble the items into gift bags to be donated to abused and homeless women at Christmas.
Behrhorst shops at garage sales and collects donations from friends and acquaintances, usually what they no longer need. “It’s not meant to be a project where we spend a lot of money,” said Behrhorst. “Whatever people are not using that would be appropriate for a woman.”
In addition to travel toiletries, the medium-sized gift bags Behrhorst and her friends put together often include makeup and makeup bags, Christmas cards and pens, small stuffed animals, treats like tea, coffee or chocolate and sometimes small accessories. One year, Behrhorst said she found gloves on sale for 13 cents each, and managed to give 100 pairs of gloves to abused and homeless women in the gift bags.
Behrhorst also manages to find items to donate through her work as an organizer. Through her company “At Last, You’re Organized,” Behrhorst helps people, mostly seniors, organize and downsize their belongings, some of which her clients then donate to her for her gift bags. “Since I really like working with seniors, since we’re on the same wavelength,” said Behrhorst.
She took on the Christmas project from a fellow teacher, who could no longer continue, and has been doing it ever since.
The gift bags go to about 10 local shelters around San Diego County, including Vista, Encinitas and Oceanside. Due to the secrecy needed by the abused women for safety, Behrhorst and her friends never get to see the recipients in person. “We don’t see them, we don’t go into the shelter,” said Behrhorst. Still, Behrhorst knows her efforts are appreciated. “[The shelters] never turn the gift bags down, they’re always grateful,” said Behrhorst.
Behrhorst encourages her friends to get toothpaste and toothbrushes from the dentist to donate, and saves money by purchasing the gift bags during after-Christmas sales, and saving them for the following year’s donations.
She throws a “bag party” every year, which she said is highly anticipated by her friends, to assemble the gift bags. Last year, they managed to assemble 200 bags. “It’s become my Christmas thing to do,” said Behrhorst.
Behrhorst said the credit isn’t hers alone. “I could never do it by myself,” said Behrhorst. “I consider myself a facilitator. Taking things from people who don’t need them, and getting them to people who do. It’s just a matter of organization, which I like to do anyway.”
Despite the work involved, Behrhorst said she has no plans to stop her Christmas tradition anytime soon. “I’m going to keep doing this until I’m old and gray, and can’t do it anymore,” said Behrhorst.
If you’d like to find out more about how to donate to Behrhorst’s gift bags, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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