Family Giving Tree
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About Us

Our Vision

The Family Giving Tree envisions a world where every child is made to feel like a valuable part of their community through a shared belief in the power of giving.

Our Mission

The Family Giving Tree fulfills the exact holiday wish and provides backpacks filled with school supplies to those children in the most need in our communities while inspiring the values of kindness, philanthropy and volunteerism.

Our History

The Family Giving Tree began in 1990 as a San Jose State University MBA class project. Jennifer Cullenbine and Todd Yoshida were asked to "create a program that adds value to someone else's life." They created the Family Giving Tree with the hope of providing holiday gifts to 300 children in East Palo Alto. Encouraged by the success of the first year, Jennifer decided to continue and expand the organization. In the 23rd year of the program's existence, the total number of gifts and backpacks donated had grown to over 900,000, making the Family Giving Tree the largest gift and backpack donation program in California.


Office Elves

Making a career out of helping others, our professional staff oversees day to day operations. We currently employ 10 full time and 6 part time employees throughout the year. We all take great pride in being the foundation for our Elves' community.

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Our illustrious founder and Queen Elf, Jenn created the Family Giving Tree as a class project while earning her MBA from San Jose State University in 1990. In addition to managing the Tree, Jenn is affiliated with many organizations, some of which include the Young Entrepreneurs Organization, The Milpitas Chamber of Commerce, and the Rotary Club of Milpitas. She is happily married to her husband Dan and has two beautiful children, Connor and Kinsey. Together with her family, Jenn nurtures and socializes kittens to get them ready for adoption. She has successfully found homes for over 117 kittens!

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Jeanne began volunteering In high school by teaching English to migrant workers. She received a BA in Sociology from UC Santa Barbara, and completed her postgraduate work in Social Service at Santa Clara University. She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, and has served as a mentor to several local non-profits. She has completed advanced courses through Indiana University School of Philanthropy. Jeanne enjoys time with her daughters, extended family, friends and traveling. With Canadian roots, she is an avid Sharks fan.

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Jess is an expert with small to medium sized operations with added extensive work in the not-for-profit sector. With his specialization in financial reporting, internal controls, business planning, financial systems, and organization development Jess keeps the Elves' finances in line. He currently act as the permanent and part-time CFO for numerous not-for profit organizations including the Family Giving Tree. Jess obtained a BSC from Santa Clara University and received an MBA from Pepperdine University. When he's not crunching numbers, Jess enjoys golfing, enjoying fine wine, and spending time with his lovely wife and children.

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Originally from Chicago, IL, Al graduated with a BS in Math from Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI. Prior to moving to San Jose, Al served in the U.S. Navy as a Surface Warfare Officer for 8 years in San Diego (ironically, he gets seasick). He then received a Masters in Organization Development from the University of San Francisco prior to working for Integrated Device Technology and at Intel as a Supply Chain planner and manager. In addition to being an avid hockey fan, Al also enjoys running, commuting to work on his bike, and visiting lighthouses on the coast with his wife Jenny.

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Another Bay Area native, Alene joined our team in early 2015 as Marketing Manager Elf. Alene brings with her more than 20 years marketing experience in both large Enterprise and non-profits; but her heart has always been centered on service. Along with her husband, twin daughters and even grandparents, Alene has been a volunteer here at the FGT for more than 6 years. Alene admits she looks forward to the opportunity to sneak in trail runs when she can around her girl’s very busy sports schedules.

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California born and raised, Amelia graduated from San Jose State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music where she developed her skills as a classical vocalist. A self-proclaimed fire soul, the knowledge she gained as a musician and liberal arts student enhanced her passion for making a positive impact in the world. She joined the Family Giving Tree in 2013 as the Backpack Build Coordinator and quickly made herself at home. In her spare time, you can find Amelia sitting in one of her many favorite coffee shops reading a good book, working out at the gym, or enjoying live music with her friends.

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A California Native, Ashley was raised by a firefighter and a school teacher, in a home where public service was highly valued. Throughout her life she has found great fulfillment in volunteering and working with a variety of nonprofits. Ashley received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Studies in 2008 with a minor in Criminal Justice. Originally hired as the Office Manager Elf, Ashley is thrilled to return to the Tree as the part time Communication Specialist Elf. In her free time, Ashley enjoys raising her daughter and spending time with her husband and their wild family and friends. She is an avid reader and enjoys being active, particularly with swimming and hiking. She does not like going more than a year without having her passport stamped, and has had the privilege of living in both Sweden and Japan. She also strongly believes laughter is the most important part of every day.

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At age 14, Celeste volunteered at the O'Connor hospital and received an award for 100 community service hours. Her commitment to service has stayed strong over the years, and we love having her as our Agency Coordinator. In her free time, she enjoys cooking and traveling, and her next stop is Australia to visit her daughter. Celeste is also a bit of a daredevil — although she is afraid of heights, she's been skydiving … twice!

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All the way from Toronto, Canada, Cristi has since embraced the Bay Area as home and is currently in the midst of earning a sociology degree at San Jose State University. She joined the Tree in 2004 as Communications Specialist, and her day-to-day activities include overseeing all social media and developing electronic newsletters, website content, and collateral campaigns. In her free time, Cristi enjoys spending time with her family at soccer games and lego marathons, cleaning her kitchen ceiling after a weekend of canning and watching her urban garden wilt under her black thumb. She does not like cardboard. Are you following us at and @FGTTweets ?

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Heather graduated from Bates College where she double-majored in Anthropology and Women and Gender Studies. While at Bates, Heather researched the transmission of knowledge regarding childbirth in different cultures, studied abroad in India, and was a member of the varsity rowing team. Born and raised in New Hampshire, she grew up traveling the east coast of the US and Canada with her family. She has a love for the outdoors, healthy and delicious food, and spending time with her family and friends. Heather is very excited to have made the move to the Bay Area and to be joining the Family Giving Tree.

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As the Volunteer Coordinator Elf, Jessica gets the privilege to learn from and collaborate with all of the fabulous volunteers that make The Family Giving Tree so successful! Jessica’s passion for working with volunteers comes from her own rewarding experiences volunteering in the community. Her favorite volunteer experiences include mentoring and tutoring young students and helping provide resources to food insecure individuals. Her most adventurous volunteering experience was teaching English abroad in northern Chile where she quickly learned the best way to motivate her students was to incorporate Disney sing-alongs into as many lessons as possible. Jessica graduated from UC Berkeley with a major in Sociology and minors in Education and Spanish and loves to travel, hike, and confuse people by being an identical twin.

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Born and raised in the Bay Area, Katie graduated from California State University San Marcos with a degree in Sociology and Criminology and Justice Studies. Upon graduating, Katie found herself working in the nonprofit sector and has never looked back. She is very excited to join the Family Giving Tree and become one of the elves. In her free time she enjoys running, cheering on the SF Giants and playing on the “Pups” in the NorCal Field Hockey league.



Liza and her family have been volunteering at the Family Giving Tree since 2006, working both the Holiday Wish and Back to School Drives. She is very excited to be a Staff Elf! Liza is a native Northern Californian who spent many years working in the high-tech video industry. She then spent a decade staying home raising her two children. Time well spent! During that time, she volunteered a lot in the schools, which lead to creating the PACT Foundation for the elementary school, as well as being on the Board of Directors for both The Mountain View Educational Foundation and The Palo Alto School for Jewish Education. She enjoys hiking, camping, reading, and hanging out with her family.

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Rene joined us at the Tree in 2003 as a volunteer and became a full-time employee in 2007. Affectionately dubbed "Poppy", Rene's our Fix-It Elf, and his responsibilities range from being in charge the gift database to making sure that the wish cards accurately reflect the wishes of the kids we work with. Rene's favorite movie is Raiders of the Lost Ark (he's seen it 46 times), and he's an avid Sharks fan.

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Born and raised in San Jose, Shannon graduated from San Jose State University with a degree in public relations and a minor in communication studies. Shannon worked eight years in the corporate world before joining the Tree in 2012. In her free time, Shannon enjoys cooking, cheering on her San Francisco 49ers, and spending time with her husband Phil and adorable baby girl Solara.

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Susie was born and raised in San Jose, CA. She has been bookkeeping and working in accounting her entire career and is a Certified Bookkeeper with the National Bookkeepers Association. Susie is married to Peter and has three children; Jade, Molly and Blake. She is currently one of the high school Sunday School Teachers at Christ Community Church of Milpitas and loves cooking, scrapbooking and going for long walks and bike rides with her husband. Her favorite food is spicy Mexican or Italian!

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Theo enjoys developing collaborative relationships with organizations to make a positive impact in the local community. This passion began as a child when he held his first fundraiser, a backyard carnival for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. That childhood experience served as the catalyst to over 30 years of community involvement in nonprofit and corporate settings. Previously, Theo worked for Synopsys, Inc. managing the employee involvement programs, Synopsys Shares, encouraging over 6,500 employees in 80 locations worldwide to make an involved difference. Theo received a BA from Luther College in Decorah, IA. An avid singer and member of two choruses, one often hears him singing a tune for an upcoming performance. Theo relishes time with husband Dio, beagles Rusty & Winnie, family and friends.

Board of Directors

Not only a dedicated group of volunteers, the Board of Directors guides Family Giving Tree in pursuit of its goals. This level of performance is a level of dedication unto itself. The board members of FGT have committed time, energy and funds to the overall cause and mission of the team.

Jennifer Cullenbine Executive Director

Jennifer is a true native Californian who graduated from San Jose State University with an undergraduate degree and a Masters in Business Administration. She created the Family Giving Tree as a class project in 1990 and has been the Queen Elf and Executive Director ever since. Jennifer strives to promote volunteerism and donates hundreds of hours each year to Public Television (KTEH), The Cancer Society and numerous local events.

Bill Cilker Treasurer

Bill is a property manager and orchardist, who lives in Milpitas with his wife , Liz, and daughter, Cindy. Bill graduated from Los Gatos High School and then from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He works in the family business of managing commercial and agricultural property. Bill also sits on the Agricultural Advisory Board of the Santa Clara Water District, his HOA and is active in the Model A Ford Club. He is past president of the Milpitas Rotary Club and the Santa Clara County Farm Bureau.

Elizabeth Luna Vice Chair

Elizabeth Luna, founder of Concert Private Wealth, has expertise in risk management, estate planning, and financial planning. A graduate from Santa Clara University, Elizabeth has worked with CalComp Insurance in risk management and claims settlement. As a financial advisor, Elizabeth oversees the financial planning department and focuses on strategy implementation for high-net worth clients.

Larry Sacks Secretary

Larry has been a member of FGT board of directors since 1996! He has worked for a variety of firms in Silicon Valley, most recently with Netscape/AOL. In 2003, he formed a Systems consulting business called "KC and Associates" and classifies himself as a "systems geek". In June of 2004, Larry and Gerry Young formed an alliance and now work together as part of Focused I.T. Solutions. He is currently employed by the City of Cupertino as an IT Assistant, and holds a staff photographer position at The Santa Clara Weekly. Larry is an avid photographer and can be seen at many FGT events toting a camera. He has his own photography business; Larry Sacks Photography. Larry is an active volunteer with Second Harvest Food Bank in San Jose and when he is not working, he can be found racing (on a track), working pit crew and as crew-photographer for friends that race in the SCCA, autocrossing, driving his Fiat, cooking, hiking, and playing tennis.

Todd Yoshida Co-Founder, Board Chair

As a Bay Area native, Todd graduated with a Masters in Business Administration from San Jose State University. He founded his own structural engineering firm in 1989 after working for various other firms in the Santa Clara Valley. Todd has been with the Family Giving Tree since its inception and is Jennifer's constant reminder that she is making a difference in the lives of people.

Carin DeGroff

Carin is an experienced marketer in the professional services and technology industries. She is the Silicon Valley marketing leader for Moss Adams, an accounting, tax and consulting firm that merged with Silicon Valley’s Mohler, Nixon and Williams in early 2013. She is also a member of her firm’s “Helping Hands” committee to foster employee involvement in the Silicon Valley community. Carin was born and raised in Southern California, and graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara. After volunteering with her company and social organizations at the Family Giving Tree warehouse, she joined the board of directors in 2013.

Dolores Marquez

Dolores Marquez worked for the Alum Rock Union Elementary School District for 30 years, most recently as a Child Welfare and attendance liaison. Since then, she has been elected to the Alum Rock Union Elementary School Board.

Natalie Wymer

Bio coming soon!

Past Board Members

David Bratton-Kearns, Josh McFarland, Matt Griffis, Lori Yu, Margarite Lee, Carol Wagner, Cris Piasecki, David Selinger, Larry Rogers, Jonathan Hicks, Gerry Young, Malia Mueller-Smith, Anne Hohenberger, Charles Yun, Bonnie McCarthy, Carol Cullenbine, Jeanne Basselgia, Leslie Rusell, Lisa Bonder, Peter Sylvester, Sheila Blash, Sylvia Beatty, Ken Cantrell.

Program Statistics

Year Holiday Host Locations Holiday Agencies Served Holiday Children Helped Holiday Volunteers BTS Host Locations BTS Agencies Served BTS Children Helped BTS Volunteers
1990 28 3 2,010 5 -- -- -- --
1991 80 15 5,000 10 -- -- -- --
1992 120 30 10,000 20 -- -- -- --
1993 200 40 16,500 100 -- -- -- --
1994 250 56 17,500 200 -- -- -- --
1995 400 70 19,000 400 -- -- -- --
1996 500 67 22,000 1,000 5 1 25 5
1997 505 93 23,364 1,200 10 10 150 10
1998 575 100 30,000 1,850 15 12 300 15
1999 703 136 35,000 2,000 20 15 400 20
2000 775 150 45,000 2,500 30 20 500 75
2001 775 175 35,000 3,000 60 30 3,200 125
2002 766 180 40,743* 3,950 80 37 5,009 200
2003 851 202 48,500 4,500 90 50 6,500 250
2004 924 250 55,000 5,500 119 79 8,676 300
2005 943 256 63,000 6,500 142 101 11,800 368
2006 974 239 68,000 6,000 183 105 12,000 599
2007 948 258 60,000 8,000 205*** 138 15,000 600
2008 1,037 261 62,073 6,000 245 127 15,000 650
2009 935 244 61,068 6,200 285 112 13,843 650
2010 957 252 62,000 6,500 281 117 18,000 600
2011 950 294 66,800 6,400 340 112 14,200 705
2012 985 317 63,800 6,700 391 153 21,000 800
2013 1,012 308 68,400 6,200 420 193 26,684 918
2014 1,135 323 71,600 7,200 433 247 32,866 1,107


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Milpitas ‘Family Giving Tree’ Equips Students With Necessary Tools

A Milpitas non-profit organization is helping low-income children start the school year with the necessary tools they need to succeed.

The Family Giving Tree has collected 135-thousand backpacks and school supplies for children for over 17 years.


Texas Instruments, Family Giving Tree promote STEM at student event

Texas Instruments (TI) (NASDAQ: TXN) and Family Giving Tree will host "STEM in the Schoolyard" at Downtown College Prep (DCP) on Friday, July 27. The event kicks off the school year for 130 incoming, low-income DCP freshmen and their families and will include inspiring presentations by elected officials, hands-on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) activities, as well as a welcoming reception for the new ninth grade students.

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