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Blankets spread cheer Samantha Mendoza | Sat, Dec 10 2011 12:00 PM

Holiday spirit is in the air, but Denise Czer spreads the cheer all year long when she donates new blankets to children’s shelters throughout San Diego County. Czer donates more than 1,200 blankets each year.
Czer said this is often the only new gift these children receive.  Her thoughts were that a blanket had dual purposes, offering warmth and comfort.
New Start Blankets started 16 years ago when Czer, 51, was knitting blankets for her nieces and nephews. Seeing how excited they were to receive something as simple as a blanket, she thought of the joy it might bring to kids who have nothing.
“We had our first Christmas party in 1995 and asked people to donate blankets,” she said. “Now we collect all throughout San Diego County but especially in Chula Vista. There’s a lot of heart and soul in this community.”
Czer and her husband Dr. Greg Czer deliver blankets to the San Diego Domestic Violence shelters. Friends of the Czars, Dr. Phil and Shawn Bajo and Father John Tolley and Sarah Tolley also keep the program going by collecting blankets.
“Since we are in Chula Vista we are pleased to serve South Bay Community Services delivering hundreds of blankets to them each year,” Czer said.
South Bay Community Services relations coordinator Erica Johnson said Czer maintains an incredible level of enthusiasm.
“She has infectious enthusiasm which inspires others to get involved and keeps the program fresh and vibrant,” Johnson said. “When new families come in, they always have something cozy and warm and it makes a scary time in their life feel comfortable, like home.”
Johnson said for many families, it’s something that’s carried with them forever.
“I was working late one night and a family of six came in who were living in their car,” she said. “It was a freezing night and we were able to give them all New Start Blankets. It was a nice comforting thing to make them feel like people care.”
Czer is a certified health coach and a business leader with Take Shape For Life and also helps manage her husband’s medical practice at Sharp Chula Vista Internal Medicine. But she said her passion is children in need.
Sometimes Czer comes home from her office and there are blankets ready to be delivered sitting at her doorstep. She calls the donors her blanket angels.
“So many wonderful residents of this great town either make or purchase blankets and donate them to New Start Blankets each year,” she said. “I get the most donations around Christmas time.”
Czer said it doesn’t take much time to arrange everything because she’s very organized. And with a great cause comes a great outcome.
“It’s the very least we can do for other people’s children who may not have somebody,” she said. “We can give a child who’s been so distressed a little security and comfort.”
The program is so successful because it has a very specific mission, Johnson said.
“It’s unique and simple,” she said. “When families have nothing to look forward to in life this is one thing that makes a big difference.”
Just like Santa on Christmas Eve, Czer leaves blankets at the shelters for the kids to wake up to the next morning.
“There was a 17-year-old once (who) asked someone at the shelter, ‘Where did this blanket come from? It wasn’t here when I went to bed,’” she said. “The woman told her it was from me. Then she said, ‘I am keeping this blanket for the rest of my life because it reminds me of the night my family gained freedom.’”
Johnson said Czer shares stories with everyone in the program and they get to enjoy the feeling of contributing something special.
“It’s something everyone can contribute to and you don’t have to have a lot of money to do,” said Johnson. “It’s a constant resource and it helps us do our job better. Families feel safe.”
As a mother of three, Czer has had lots of help since day one. Her oldest son and his wife in Washington D.C. keep the tradition going by donating blankets in their community.
“We live in a generous and spirited community and it’s an ongoing surprise to me how people are so helpful. It’s a beautiful thing,” she said. “It shows what the heart and soul is of the community of Chula Vista.”
She said if they can pay all the goodness forward, then everybody benefits. They just want to give kids a moment of comfort.
“The only requirement is that the blankets are new,” she said. “The blankets come in all different shapes, sizes and colors. The kids pick them out, so it suits the needs of all the kids.”
Students at Bonita Vista High School are just one of the many groups who donate to New Start Blankets.
“I love having youths do this because it’s important to help pay life forward,” she said. “We’re blessed to live in a community that’s helpful. It’s a great experience and I meet wonderful people.”
Czer always feels like she wants to do something for other people and she enjoys it. She said the satisfaction of being able to help people is wonderful.
“It’s definitely gratifying to realize you’re helping someone in need,” she said. “Most people want to help and have a big heart and this is a vehicle to do that. People helping people is how we built this country and anytime people can help people it’s a good thing.”

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