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Gift Givers Find Joy In Filling Holiday Need
More than four dozen families in the area were the beneficiaries of this year's Toys for Tots campaign hosted by the Escalon Fire Department, and supported by multiple area businesses, service organizations and residents.

Sign-ups were taken at a couple of different times, and the total of 154 children, from birth to 14-plus, received a wide variety of gifts during the annual distribution on Dec. 21.

Volunteers gathered in the chilly bay of the fire station on Coley Avenue early Wednesday, with the fire trucks rolled out to make room for the piles of presents. Grouped according to age, volunteers then used the master list of families to pack the age-appropriate gifts into bags for later distribution.

Biggest needs were in the boys, 7- to 10-year-old age group, with 21 children in that category, and in the girls, 1- to 3-year-old group, with 22 signed up for that age.

Coordinator Terry Pinheiro of the Escalon Fire Department said things seemed to go smoothly this year.

"Some of the collection boxes around town were ultra-full and El Portal was a big winner for the schools," Pinheiro explained. "Escalon Premier Brands was big for the businesses."

Escalon Police Officer Gustavo Flores was also a key cog in the operation, said Pinheiro, as he and his wife Nona and daughter Laci were on scene the day of and helped coordinate the sign-ups, helping with the Spanish-speaking community.

"As always, the American Legion also stepped up and came through and many members of the fire department, they picked up the boxes," Pinheiro said.

Other volunteers on the day included Scouts from Troop 415, area high school and college students and members of the American Legion Riders group, in addition to the Legion members.

Bob 'Bing' Bingaman, a Legion Rider, said he and his wife Kim, who live along Mariposa Road just outside Stockton, were happy to come in to town and help out.

"I don't have any kids," Bingaman said. "I like this, this is what the holiday is all about and these kids, the kids are our future."

For Flores, working the holiday distribution was a double joy this year, as he had the chance to help out in the community and reconnect with a former Escalon Police Department Explorer - Joey Camara - who recently completed boot camp with the U. S. Marine Corps and was able to stop by briefly.

"I love the fact that we are giving back to the community," Flores added. "It's a very joyful occasion."

And though it was bitterly cold on Wednesday morning, parents and children waited patiently until enough bags were filled to start the distribution.

Bags packed included those for infants, boys four, girls three; 1- to 3-year-olds, boys 12, girls 22; 4 to 6, boys 14, girls 16; 7 to 10, boys 21, girls 19; 11 to 13, boys 12, girls 18; 14-plus boys nine, girls 11.