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Firefighters step up to help kids
Manteca Fire Captain Jeff Dennis takes appetizers out to a table at Applebees on Wednesday. - photo by HIME ROMERO

When it came time to make dinner plans for Wednesday night, Bob Helsley knew exactly what he was going to do – help kids in Manteca, Ripon, Lathrop and Escalon by taking his family out to dinner.

The Helsleys were one of dozens of families that put the annual Tip-A-Firefighter event at the Manteca Applebee’s on their calendar. The event, which has been running for the better part of a decade, features local firefighters acting as servers and bartenders and benefits Give Every Child a Chance.

“We like coming out to this because we like to support the community, and we appreciate what the firefighters are doing here,” he said. “We’ve participated in other fundraisers in the past like the bowling and a couple of other events. It’s all for a good cause.”

While the event raises thousands of dollars for the local non-profit that provides free tutoring – founded by the late philanthropist Antone Raymus to ensure that no child ever has to fall behind in school – it also served as an awareness tool for those who visited the restaurant that weren’t aware of the program.

According to Executive Director Carol Davis, the extra $2,000 or so that she expected would be raised was a nice added benefit, but just looking around the room and seeing the togetherness that the event brings out was the real reward.

“The firefighters are so charming, and I love just watching the people interact with them – they love it,” Davis said. “Seeing so many people here that are so supportive of the organization is just inspiring. Having this many people come out on a Wednesday night is amazing, and if you look around there’s a real community feel to what’s going on here. That sense of togetherness is really what this is all about because all of these people believe in Give Every Child a Chance.”

And it was off-duty firefighters that volunteered their time to help make the event possible.

Captain Dave Breitenbucher, who served as the de facto greeter at the door for the majority of the event, remembers when it was Manteca Firefighters Association President Franco Torrice that first started the event when he served on the GECAC Board of Directors – a position that Breitenbucher himself now occupies.

It’s been a cause close to the hearts of many in the department ever since.

“It’s a chance for us to come out here and help raise money for an organization that does so much for kids,” Breitenbucher said. “I think that’s really the most important thing about this. At the end of the day, the reason that we’re all here is for the kids, and that’s why so many guys are willing to go out of their way to help this organization.

“It gives us a chance to give back to the community, and most of all to do something for the kids.”