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Firefighters step up to help needy families

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POSTED December 14, 2011 1:48 a.m.

LATHROP – Kevin Wallace knows that a few toys, a hot meal and a little bit of holiday cheer can make a whole lot of difference to a struggling family during the Christmas season.

The Lathrop-Manteca Fire District Engineer has seen firsthand the impacts of the economic downturn while on shift, and for the past six years has taken a proactive role in making a positive impact in the community by spearheading the Lathrop-Manteca Firefighters Association Local 4317 annual Christmas for Kids event at Grace Community Church.

This year’s event takes place on Wednesday, Dec. 21, at 6 p.m.

“We’ve got 25 families and 60 kids that are coming in here, and we want to do as much as we can to give something special that they can come and enjoy,” Wallace said. “What our Union does is a small price for the big payout that these families get – especially the kids.”

Wallace turned to the local Head Start program to find families that are struggling economically, and incorporated a rather unique approach to soliciting donations from the community in order to make sure that the annual event is a success – tagging the Christmas tree at the senior center with cards that specify the sex and the age of each child and asking for a donation from people in the community to make sure that all of the kids go home with something from Santa Claus.

Donations from the union, he said, fill in the blanks.

The rest of the event consists of not only a Christmas dinner, but the provision of a take-home Christmas meal for each of the families to enjoy on their own.

I really enjoy seeing the involvement of the people in this community and being able to bring something to the table that helps their Christmas,” Wallace said. “It’s very rewarding to see the smile on the kids’ face when they’re sitting there talking to Santa.

“Right then it seems to make all of the other stuff go away.”

According to Lathrop-Manteca Firefighters Union President Josh Capper, the event is a chance to both give something to those who need it and interact with the public in a relaxed and inviting setting – something that doesn’t always exist when people see firefighters out in the community.

The event itself, he said, has been an active part of the Lathrop holiday season for more than a decade and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

“I think that our firefighters are committed, as difficult as times are, to reach out to others. I think a lot of times that we wish we could do more, and this is a step in the right direction,” Capper said. “A lot of times we see the struggles that people are facing, and this gives us a chance to do the best that we can to help out – even with our dwindling ranks.

“A lot of our guys are eager to do this, and we enjoy interacting with the public in a more positive manner.”

The event is open only to the 25 families that have been pre-selected. For additional information, contact the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District at (209) 858-2331.

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