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Toy Distribution Staged Amid Wintry Conditions
As cars pulled in behind the firehouse, volunteers delivered bags of toys, plus an occasional bicycle or scooter to those families that had signed up for the distribution. Here, firefighter Dave Escove and American Legion Post member Al Bellinger take items to the first car in line on Dec. 21. Marg Jackson/The Times

Monday morning, Dec. 21 featured plenty of fog and very damp, chilly weather – providing a wintry backdrop for the Escalon Fire Department’s annual toy distribution for youngsters.

Working in cooperation with organizations including the Escalon American Legion Post, Escalon Lions Club, Escalon Police, Community Ambulance and local businesses, the Escalon Fire Department helped make the holidays brighter for more than 120 children from throughout the fire district.

Firefighter Ryan Burr, who headed up this year’s effort, said they had 39 families sign up for the program, accounting for 121 children, from infant to mid-teens.

“That’s down from a normal of about 60 families and 160 to 170 kids,” Burr said, noting that he feels the pandemic may have kept some families from signing up, even though the gifts may have been needed this year more than ever.

“This is the biggest haul that we’ve ever had,” he added, with people seeming to give more generously.

The toys, which are separated into boys and girls piles by age group, are then placed in bags for the distribution. In the past, families have come in to the firehouse bay, picking up their bags, a stuffed animal and a candy cane. This year, it was hosted drive-thru style, with the police department and City of Escalon working to block off a couple of streets in the area to allow for the traffic to flow through the library parking lot past the back of the firehouse. The car would drive up, hand over their sign-up information and the ‘order’ filled for however many children were included in the family.

Burr said once they had bagged up plenty of toys for each family, any leftover items would be placed into storage for next year.

“My guess is that once this is over (COVID), next year we will see our numbers go back up,” he said.

He pointed to Grass Ranch, Escalon Premier Brands and Dollar General as being major contributors this year, along with a sizeable amount of toys collected through Les Schwab Tires.

“This year we also got the most cash donations we’ve ever had, about $850,” Burr said.

The toys were collected from the various donation sites around town last week. On Monday, the volunteers arrived at the firehouse at 7:30 a.m. to start sorting and bagging the toys. Cars were able to start coming in to pick up the toy and gift bags at 9 a.m. and the drive thru distribution continued for a couple of hours.

For the girls, there was only one signed up in the ‘infant’ age group, with 12 in the age 1 to 3 group; six in the 4 to 6; 14 in the 7 to 9; 14 in the 10 to 12; 11 in the 13 to 15; and five in the 16-plus age group.

On the boys side, there were two sign-ups for the infant boys category, followed by six in the 1 to 3; nine in the 4 to 6; 16 in the 7 to 9; 11 in the 10 to 12; 10 in the 13 to 15; and four in the boys 16-plus group.

“We’re always here, we do it every year,” said longtime volunteer Gary Brenner, sorting through the toys with wife, Lucy, working to get the items bagged up and ready for distribution.

Every bag of toys for the younger age groups also included a stuffed animal and there were several bicycles and scooters that were provided to some lucky youngsters as well.

Burr said the effort went smoothly considering it was the first time a drive-thru style had been used and he said all involved were very appreciative of the community donations that helped make the annual toy distribution program a success.

Escalon firefighter Jennifer Cannon works to bag up some toys for the girls’ 7- to 9-year-old age group on Monday morning, Dec. 21 at the Coley Avenue firehouse. The annual toy distribution was hosted as a drive-thru event this year. Marg Jackson/The Times