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Santa sleigh was a big yellow bus
Pic 3  Manteca Youth From MYAC serving meals
Manteca Youth Advisory Focus members served meals Saturday. - photo by MONICA CANE/ The Bulletin

The Christmas season could have been a bleak affair for 300 Manteca residents.

But thanks to volunteers through the Stuff the Bus for Kid’s Sake it isn’t.

The effort targeted making Christmas possible for the children in struggling families by enlisting the community’s help for gifts of toys and then invited the kids and their families to a holiday meal.

The families gathered Saturday at the Manteca Senior Center that was decked out with a Christmas tree, lights and holiday décor. Children found special placemats they could color and were given Christmas ornaments to decorate

 While the invited guests listened to holiday music and chatted joyfully with one another, a kitchen crew of volunteers prepared their food.  When dinner was ready, a handful of hard-working youth served the honored guests their meal. Dinner included pasta with a marinara sauce, a fresh garden salad with dinner roll in addition to chicken nuggets for the children and desert.

Organizers Brandy Clark and Daveen Williams — along with numerous volunteers — made the evening magical for the families, some whose only Christmas gifts and celebration would come from that one evening.

Brandy’s husband Raymond Clark assisted in welcoming guests and preparing them for the big treat of the evening — a visit with Santa and gifts.  Sneaking a peek into the room where large bags held gifts from children’s wish-lists, Raymond shared a Santa secret.

“This is only a small portion of the gifts,” he offered. “The majority of them will be delivered to families on Monday.”

All gifts donated for this event were collected this month which made for a crazy couple of weeks for all the volunteers involved.

“Everything was done within a 3-week period.  Everyday that’s all we did,” Brandy said.

Support for the program came from various places such as Thrive Church, Shop with a Cop, the Central Valley of Association of Realtors Manteca council  and other organizations that took names from the wish list and purchased the gifts.

As the amount of children and families in need jumped from 700 people last year to 1,200 this year, Brandy is grateful for all the help and hopes that next year she can begin collecting wish-list gifts earlier in order to provide even more for families in need during the holidays.

 “We were getting so many calls that at a certain point we had to stop answering the phone and let it go to voicemail,” Brandy said. “There are a lot of needs which is why I now only take referrals from agencies.  There is only so much we can do.”

Doing what they could do was definitely enough as all the families in attendance at this year’s Stuff the Bus for Kid’s Sake Christmas dinner were not disappointed.

After enjoying their meal together, families were dismissed one table at a time to the library where photographer Gabriel Ayala of Reflections Photography was waiting to take pictures of the children visiting with Santa.

From there, the families were then ushered to the gift room to receive their presents “A lot of organizations only give one gift to each child but we give three to five gifts” shared Brandy with great joy.

All those involved in this year’s Stuff the Bus for Kid’s Sake dinner made sure all guests, young and old experienced the true spirit of Christmas, sharing love and time together and look forward to doing it again next year.

A special thanks goes to Manteca Youth Advisory Commission, Manteca Parks and Recreation, East Union High School, Kiwanis, Manteca Senior  Advisory Committee, Girl Scout Troops 2687 and 725, Eagles Nest Harley Davidson, and Silver Barons Motorcycle club and all who were involved in making Christmas wonderful for families in need within our community.

If you are interested in how you can get a jump-start on supporting this program for next year, contact Brandy Clark at (209) 456-8623.