A total of 176 children – 91 girls and 85 boys – had their Christmas made a little brighter over the weekend.
It was the annual Escalon Fire Department toy giveaway, hosted in conjunction with the Escalon American Legion Post 263 and staged at the Coley Avenue firehouse on Saturday morning, Dec. 21.
Collection boxes placed in the community over the past few weeks helped fill the need, with gift bags made up of toys, puzzles, games, and more for the lucky recipients. Broken down by age for the girls, there were five infants, 14 girls from 1 to 3 years old, 15 in the 4 to 6 category; 20 in the 7 to 9 category; 17 girls in the 10 to 12-year-old group, 15 in the 13 to 15 and four girls 16-plus in need of gifts. For the boys, there were four infants, seven in the 1 to 3; 17 in the 4 to 6; 16 in the 7 to 9; 26 in the 10 to 12 age group and 15 in the 13 to 15 year old group.
A crew of volunteers, some from the community and others from both the American Legion and Fire Department, gathered at the firehouse early morning Saturday to separate gifts into the age appropriate piles and get them bagged up.
A 9 a.m. start was scheduled for the distribution, with those who had signed up previously coming in to pick up the items for their family.
“It’s our community service,” said Legion Post Commander Curtis Vaughn, noting that he enjoys taking part in the annual event. “Seeing the kids and knowing that these kids are going to have something for Christmas.”
Vaughn said he served overseas and saw many children that went without, so it makes him happy to help make sure that doesn’t happen here.
Fire Board member Laura Catrina stayed busy helping collect the packages for handing off to the families as they came in.
“It’s going very, very well and the best part is the toys stay in the community, that is a huge benefit,” she said.
Les Schwab Tires assistant manager Josh Corral was volunteering for the first time.
“It’s fun, I just wanted to get involved with the community,” he said.
Legion member Gary Brenner and wife Lucy were also on hand to help out.
“I come because they can always use the help,” Lucy said.
For police officer Nick Berchtold, he said it’s about making sure the community is taken care of during the holidays.
“It’s just nice to have a positive interaction with the people,” he said. “And help them make some kids’ Christmas happy. It’s also nice to see such strong support from the community.”
Born and raised in Escalon, Berchtold said it was that sense of community that drew him back to work here.
Organizers said the event went fairly smoothly, with attendees also able to choose a stuffed animal or two to take along with them as well, and again they were pleased with the support from residents, keeping the donations coming to help meet the local need.
The toy distribution has been going on for more than 20 years.