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L-M firefighters deliver for Santa again

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L-M firefighters deliver for Santa again

Harley Felton can’t control her excitement as she opens a baby doll set that she wanted for Christmas.

HIME ROMERO/ The Bulletin/

POSTED December 21, 2013 12:40 a.m.

LATHROP – Justus Marlow couldn’t contain his excitement.

The second that the 5-year-old saw Santa Claus Thursday night at the Lathrop-Manteca Firefighters Association’s “Christmas for Kids” event at Grace Community Church, he started running laps around his table.  He ran up to the affable man in red – shrieked with joy – and had a hard time finding ways to channel the unbridled childhood spirit that had suddenly overtaken him.

Seeing his reaction was enough to move his grandmother Marcy – who adopted Justus along with his older sister – to tears.

“He has some challenges, but it’s amazing to see how excited he is to be here and to see Santa Claus,” Marlow said, tearing up. “We feel very blessed to be included in an event like this. We’re very appreciative of the goodwill of the people to make something like this possible.

“It really helps out a lot of families and it’s something that’s great for the kids.”

For the last 15 years the Lathrop Manteca Firefighters Association Local 4317 has been fine-tuning an annual program that has grown to serve dozens of local families through an event that includes a complimentary pizza dinner, a toy giveaway and a complimentary Christmas dinner that can be taken home to make sure that nobody goes hungry on Christmas.

Louisa Saturnino of the local Head Start program said that she’s helped pick out the kids that need the most assistance for the majority of those 15 events. While she sees economically disadvantaged kids at school on a regular basis, seeing groups like the firefighters that are willing to go out of their way to spread a little bit of Christmas cheer, she said, is amazing.

“It means something great to the parents,” Saturnino said. “Ever since the economic downturn hit families have really been struggling – we lost a lot of kids because a lot of kids lost their homes. We have students that are living out of their cars to this day, and getting to see Santa Claus and getting a gift that they wouldn’t get otherwise means a whole lot to them – it brings back that sense of normalcy.”

A team of Lathrop’s finest – Acting Captain Tim Kovacs, Captain Jeff Parker, and Captain Keith Conner – worked with event chairman Kevin Wallace to pull together the donations and the volunteers needed to turn the event around and into something the children involved would never forget.

The presents collected lined the back corner of the oversized room. There were a pair of bicycles and a massive teddy bear. And there were boxes upon boxes – each one with the name of the child taped to the wall above it.

Plenty of the kids who gnawed away at pizza provided by Mountain Mike’s were already sporting Christmas caps and carrying stockings handmade by longtime fire department supporter Joyce Gatto.

But for Wallace, it’s the bond between the firefighters and the community at large that truly brings out the best in an event like the one they’ve made an annual tradition and shows what collaboration and teamwork can do when agencies – Lathrop Police Services is also involved – work together.

“It’s really been a great year for this – all of the names were gone from the tree in a matter of weeks and we didn’t have to worry about that,” Wallace said. “Everything came together well and it’s been getting better and better every year. That’s all that you can really ask for in an event that’s designed bring cheer to needy families in our community.

“When they get a chance to meet Santa and you can see how happy they area – that’s pretty cool.”

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