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Lathrop-Manteca firefighters spread cheer
Tamia Simmons, 6, cant control her excitement as she receives her gifts during Thursdays Lathrop-Manteca Firefighters Associations 16th annual Christmas for Kids event. - photo by HIME ROMERO /The Bulletin

Tamija Seabron looked around the table and smiled.

On her lap sat three-year-old Jayshawn who worked tirelessly to get into the bag of presents that he had just been given by Santa Claus – a bag that contained toy cars and tractors and a working train set.

For the second straight year Seabron and her family were guests at the Lathrop-Manteca Firefighters Association Local 1784’s annual Christmas for Kids event. And for the second straight year she was more than grateful for the generosity of the community to provide a service like the one that outfitted her children with not just gifts, but a renewed sense of the spirit of giving.

“I think that it’s great that this is something that’s being provided for the community,” Seabron said. “This is our second year – I’ve been a Lathrop resident since 2007 – and I think it’s a real good thing that they’re doing for families here in town.”

The event, which is in its 15th year, has been under the direction of Kevin Wallace for more than half that time. This year Wallace has been working with firefighter Chris Martinez to groom him to take over operations in the future, and the two worked hand-in-hand to organize the event which served 24 families and 59 children – providing toys for each of them and sending every family home with a Christmas dinner that they can prepare themselves.

“It’s just a blessing to be able to give back to the community like this and it seems like every year there’s a story of some child that you get to hear when he opens a present or a family that really needed to be helped out,” Wallace said. “Of all of the things that we do for the community, this is probably the best event that we put on – I always look forward to being a part of this and knowing that this is a team effort to make this thing successful.

“Being able to do things like this and the other things we do gives us a better connection to the community and helps us build trust and a bond – it makes us approachable. A lot of times as firefighters we’re helping people, but sometimes we need help too and events like this create that sort of relationship.”

And when it comes to being a part of the community – or doing something on behalf of it – Joyce Gatto is on the front lines.

For as long as the event has been happening, Gatto – the wife of Lathrop-Manteca Fire District board member Bennie Gatto – has been making stockings packed full of the things that she remembers from her childhood days as a Lathrop resident.

An apple. An orange. Candy.

“When we grew up we all went to the Brethren church and this is what they used to hand out at Christmas,” said Gatto, who also makes hats for each of the children by hand every year as well. “It’s something to put a smile on the faces of the children. This is all about the kids. Christmas is always about the kids.”