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Toy Distribution Effort Lifts Holiday Spirits
Escalon American Legion members, at right, await the orders, being handed to them by Escalon Fire Department Battalion Chief Terry Pinheiro, to fill for families in need of toys this Christmas. Marg Jackson/The Times


More than 50 families signed up for this year’s toy distribution in Escalon, and it was a new effort – coordinated by the Escalon Fire Department in cooperation with the Escalon American Legion Post.

No longer affiliated with the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots, the strictly local effort saw toys collected at several locations in town for the past few weeks, including schools, businesses, banks and more. They were then sorted by age and gender and bagged up for giveaway on Thursday, Dec. 17. The distribution was hosted at the Escalon firehouse on Coley Avenue.

“It’s great, I do this every year,” said Escalon American Legion Post 263 Commander Don Forest.

“We did better this year than last,” added Post member Jack O’Bayley of the overall toy collection.

There were needs to be filled for boys and girls, from infant up to teens. Families in the Escalon Fire District had to sign up in advance, providing the ages and genders of the children, as well as how many children in the family needed the gift bags.

Along with a sack of age-appropriate gift items for the holidays, those attending received a stuffed animal for each child and a candy cane. There were also cheese samples to enjoy while waiting in line and volunteers met early on Thursday to get all the gift bags ready.

Doors for the distribution opened early, as all the bags were ready, and one by one, attendees presented their tags and their ‘order’ was filled, with coordinator Terry Pinheiro of the Escalon Fire Department and volunteer Nona Flores making sure each family got what they needed.

Age groups included infant boy, with only four gift bags needed for that age; boys 1 to 3, 11 bags; girls 1 to 3, 13 bags. Boys ages 4 to 6, 20 bags, girls 16. Boys ages 7 to 10, 21 bags, girls 20 bags. Boys 11 to 13, 19 bags needed, girls, 24. Boys ages 14 to 17, six bags, girls 10 bags. That amounted to more than 150 bags of gifts provided between the 52 families signed up for the program.

“I think the people like to make sure that what they give here, stays here,” said Escalon Fire Chief Rick Mello, noting that the collection boxes were specific about it being an Escalon Fire-Escalon Legion toy drive. “They are very giving when it helps people at home.”

Battalion Chief Pinheiro, who oversaw the effort this year, was also pleased with the response from the community. Officials said the number in need was down slightly from last year, but all who came went away with a variety of items to put under the tree for their children.

All attending were grateful for the assistance, offering thanks to all the volunteers and sharing smiles and hugs.

For volunteer Corey Dick, who has helped out with the distribution for a number of years, that’s what it’s all about.

“It’s fun, a lot of fun,” she said of the hectic but well-coordinated distribution day. “Plus there’s a lot of satisfaction, a great feeling of giving to others.”