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Kids Box Out For Charity
Teens by the dozens gave up the comfort of video games, rental movies, microwave popcorn ... and a cozy bed on Friday night, opting to sleep under the stars. In cardboard boxes and sleeping bags.

The event was the annual Kids in a Box fundraiser for the Haven of Peace shelter for women and children in neighboring Stockton, a shelter that serves San Joaquin County. Put on by the Interact Club, the overnight 'campout' was staged on Escalon's Engel Field and drew not only Interact participants from Escalon but also schools including Edison of Stockton, Hughson High, Merced High and Modesto Community, with students from Beyer, Downey and Modesto high schools. Interact is the youth arm of Rotary and has an active chapter on the Escalon High campus.

Helping coordinate the fundraiser again this year were Dave and Sally Mantooth, along with club advisors and EHS teachers Pinder Dosanjh and Stephanie DeFreitas.

"We had about three dozen (kids) from Escalon," Sally Mantooth said of the local turnout, with close to 100 kids participating from the multiple schools.

"This is the first year we've said 'bring in at least $10' to participate," added Mantooth.

In past years, she said, some students raised money and brought it with them to the event while some decided at the last minute to attend and did not do any fundraising. This year, with the continued depressed economy, officials wanted to make sure everyone taking part brought in a donation for the Haven of Peace.

A few factors made this year a little unique, though.

"We're really early," Mantooth said of the event, "it's a holiday weekend, and we're asking for money."

Those three items didn't seem to impact the turnout, with some 55 students from Edison being the largest contingent. Students made makeshift shelters with cardboard or just used a piece of cardboard under their sleeping bag to keep the dampness away overnight.

President for the Interact Club this year is Neomai Niu, with Emma Baumhauer serving as vice president.

"Rotary is one of the sponsors," explained Mantooth, "and we get other sponsors to help foot the bill."

Students have a pizza and green salad dinner, some snacks for the evening and then a continental breakfast early in the morning, when they have to tear down their shelters, pack up their sleeping bags and head out to start the day.

Among those waking up early Saturday morning was senior Cesar Felix, taking part for the first time.

"I raised $50 so I got a shirt (event T-shirt) and I got to meet new friends," Felix said.

"It's a lot of fun, you get to meet new people, and it's for a good cause," added fellow senior Sammy Little.

Senior Tyler Schuurman said Felix got him involved in the effort and it's one he could relate to, as times are tough right now on families and he admitted that homelessness can happen to anyone.

"It would be fun to do it once in a while," he said of 'camping out' with cardboard, but it's not something he would want to have to do to survive.

Little noted that the Kids in a Box is just one event the Interact kids do during the year.

"We have our blood drives and we did Relay for Life last year," she noted. "Plus we have a Mexico trip, we go there to build a playground."

Escalon students in general said they gained a greater appreciation for the plight of the homeless through the event and some have visited the Haven of Peace shelter, getting a chance to meet some of those their fundraisers have helped.

Jeromy Jimenez, who came back to the school after Friday night's football game to take part, said his sleeping bag got taken by someone, so he shivered his way through the night.

It helped him realize that the warmth of his own bed is something he shouldn't take for granted.

"It seemed like fun," he said of participating. "It was worth it."

Major sponsors for the Kids in a Box were Stagno Meats, RMC Homes, Escalon Sunrise Rotary, with presenting sponsors Escalon Feed, True Value Hardware, Vineyard Pharmacy, Les Schwab Tires, Wright's Petroleum and additional sponsors were Escalon Body & Frame and Pizza Plus.

Students had chaperones throughout the night and had to observe 'quiet time' after 10 p.m., with the morning wake up coming between 6 a.m. and 6:30 a.m.

"A lot of times, kids will go to sleep, otherwise (after 10 p.m.) they can chat," said Mantooth. "This is our fourth year doing this at Escalon High. We have done a lot of different things at the Haven and the kids that have gone there and helped out, they understand where their money goes."

Parent David Niu, serving as a chaperone, agreed that it was an eye-opening evening.

"I'm glad that the kids are really into it, it's not just for a better appreciation of what they have, it's a learning experience," he said.