Families lined up outside the Escalon firehouse on Coley Avenue early Saturday morning and the doors opened a half hour ahead of schedule for the annual Toys for Tots giveaway event.
Coordinator Terry Pinheiro, a battalion chief with Escalon Fire Department, said the gifts were all ready to go and there wasn’t any reason to make families wait in the chilly air until 10 a.m., so the distribution started at 9:30 a.m.
Along with holiday bags full of gifts, attendees were treated to cheese samples offered by local dairyman and Escalon American Legion Post 263 member Johan Bartelink, and there were candy canes for all the youngsters as well.
Families had to sign up in advance for the Toys for Tots program, providing information on the ages of children in the family and whether they were a boy or girl, so the gift bags could be filled accordingly.
“We had 86 families for a total of 250 kids,” said Pinheiro, checking his list on Saturday morning. “There was more need this year.”
Donations were also down somewhat so the bags were not as full as in the past, but everyone went home with a variety of toys and gifts, helping make the holidays brighter for families that might not otherwise have gifts to put under the tree.
The well-oiled machine saw the gifts in piles by age group, the families coming in with their information one by one, the list handed off to a volunteer, ready to fill the ‘order’ and bring back the bags of gifts.
“We offer a huge thanks to the American Legion Post, their members have really stepped up to help,” Pinheiro said.
Other volunteers came from the community, local businesses, the military and the fire and police departments.
By age, gift wish lists were filled for infant girls, two bags; infant boys, two bags; girls one to three, 23; boys one to three, 28; girls four to seven, 33; boys four to seven, 47.
Also, girls seven to 11, 30; boys seven to 11, 33; girls 12 to 15, 17; boys 12 to 15, 15; girls 15-plus, six and boys, 15-plus, five requests for gifts.
The mood was festive and volunteers offered plenty of smiles for recipients, who in turn were very appreciative of the items provided.
Volunteers signing in to work included, from the American Legion Post 263 and American Legion Riders, Johan Bartelink, Darrell Voortman, Vince Giovaniello, Ed Ross, Al Bellinger, Curtis Vaughn, Don Forest, Gary Brenner and Lucy, Casey DenOuden, and Angelo Blanco. From the Escalon Fire Department, Terry Pinheiro, Ryan Strasser, Tom Hallam, Ryan Burr, Jennifer Cannon, Brian Thompson. Military members on hand were Cain Hansen, U.S. Navy and Korey Vaughn, California Army National Guard and California Conservation Corps. Community volunteers included Debbie and Cassie Murken, Jamie Hansen of The Cooper Company and Escalon Premier Brands representatives Corey and Kimberly Dick. Gustavo Flores of the Escalon Police Department, with wife Nona and daughter Laci, were also on hand to aid in the effort.
The Toys for Tots collection boxes and barrels were put in local businesses, offices and schools for the past several weeks to gather the items for the Saturday distribution.