Gift Cards (copy)

A sad fact is that domestic violence never takes a holiday in Long Beach or anywhere else.

If anything, violent incidents increase during the holiday season, primarily due to the added stress on families. For WomenShelter, a primary service provider for victims of domestic violence, it is the busiest time of the year.

That's at least partially due to WomenShelter's attempts to be sure families — particularly those with children — have a Christmas to celebrate. And for the past 14 years, Grunion Gazette readers have helped that process by participating in the Grunion Gift Card Drive.

Last year, the drive collected $24,500 for the shelter. In total, the Grunion has raised about $300,000 for WomenShelter, Grunion Gazette publisher Simon Grieve said.

"I am continually amazed and gratified by the generosity of our readers," Grieve said. "This really is a great way to spread the holiday spirit of giving."

WomenShelter of Long Beach has been helping domestic violence victims and educating to stop the cycle of violence since 1977. There is an emergency shelter in an undisclosed location and a resource center for counseling and other help at 4201 Long Beach Blvd. near Bixby Knolls.

Executive Director Mary Ellen Mitchell said WomenShelter served 1,300 in the last fiscal year, with almost 25,000 separate services rendered. That includes 3,621 bed nights to victims and their children at the emergency shelter. She added that if anything, the number of those in need of help has increased.

"I think there has been more publicity, more talk and awareness in this last year," Mitchell said. "Part of it is the Me Too movement. The emphasis on homelessness is an issue too — many of the homeless are homeless because they've been victims of domestic violence.

"We've been completely full a number of times this past year. And there has been lots of children. It's very sad."

Children is one focus of the gift card drive. Cards can be given to WomenShelter clients to be sure the children have Christmas, or to supplement what people who adopt families are able to give.

Another primary use is to help victims transition out of the emergency shelter and set up homes of their own. They often leave the abuser with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, Mitchell said, so cards from Target or Walmart are great ways to help create a new household.

Here's how to help. Purchase some gift cards, drop them by our office at 5225 E. Second St., or mail them to that address, attention Gift Card Drive, c/o Harry Saltzgaver. The zip code is 90803.

Don't have time to buy gift cards? Checks (made out to WomenShelter) or cash is gladly accepted, and the cards will be purchased for you.

In addition to the warm, fuzzy feeling you get by donating to a good cause, there are a couple of tangible incentives for you as well. The Aquarium of the Pacific is donating two tickets to the first batch of donors who give $50 or more, and everyone who donates will be entered into a drawing for prizes including a first place prize of $500 to Sevilla in downtown Long Beach.

Just be sure to include a self-addressed, stamped envelope if you mail a donation and want aquarium tickets, and give us an email for the drawing.

"Thanksgiving and Christmas should be times of joy, not times of trauma," Grieve said. "That's not the case for domestic violence victims. But we can help make it at least a little better with giving hearts."

For more information, call (562) 433-2000.

Harry Saltzgaver can be reached at hsalt@gazettes.com.

NOTE: This story has been updated to correct the number of different individuals served annually.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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