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Christmas comes early to 27 Lathrop families, 70 children

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POSTED December 18, 2012 12:02 a.m.

LATHROP – The joy of Christmas is coming early to 27 needy Lathrop families, including 70 children.

On Wednesday, Dec. 19, at Grace Community Church in Lathrop, members of the Lathrop-Manteca Firefighters Association IAAF Local 4317 will be hosting for the 14th year in a row a Christmas dinner party for the families complete with a visit by Santa Claus, who will be distributing gifts for the children and other treats for the families.

The party will begin at 6 p.m. The church is located on J Street, right next to the fire district’s Station #1 just west of Fifth Street.

While this is a project being spearheaded by the firefighters’ association, firefighter Kevin Wallace, who has been event chairman for the past several years, said, “we have several organizations within the community that help out.”

The gifts for the children come from the Giving Tree that the association sets up in the lobby at City Hall. Cards with the children’s names and gift requests are placed on the tree.

Every year, said association president Josh Capper, “the citizens of Lathrop have graciously picked a card and returned the child’s present to city hall, placing it under the tree.”

The tree was donated by Home Depot. Helping out with the food are Mountain Mike’s of Lathrop, Milan’s Pizza of Lathrop, the Target store in Lathrop, Costco in Manteca, the Second Harvest Food Bank, and Starbucks of Lathrop which is donating coffee for the event.

Individuals who have stepped forward to help make the party extra special include former mayor Joseph “Chaka” Santos and his wife Roseanne, and Joyce Gatto, who is making stockings for all the children.

“This year, we have the Lathrop Police Services involved and helping us as well. They’re going to be there,” Wallace said.

The funds used for the event come mainly from the firefighters’ association.

“Our membership has been very generous to us over the years. They help us fill in any void,” Wallace said.

The names of the guests at the Christmas party are referred to the firefighters by the Lathrop Head Start program, Capper said. The majority, if not all, of the families that they will be hosting live in this historic railroad town, he added.

Included in the dinner fixing will be dessert. During dinner, Santa will make his appearance and distribute gifts to the children. But that’s not all.

“At the end of the evening, we send them home with a Christmas dinner in a box with all the fixings,” said Wallace.

“It’s a great event. It gives us an opportunity as firemen to reach out to the community and help people in need,” he said.

As for the families’ reaction to this big treat, Wallace said, “They are just overwhelmed. I have so many stories of things that make it all worthwhile for us. For myself, just watching the kids’ faces make it all worthwhile.”

“We just wanted to make sure that some of the underprivileged kids who don’t get a whole lot of gifts will have a nice Christmas,” Capper said.

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