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Sticky, sweet mess part of summer fun at Boys & Girls
Gia Marshall chows down at the Manteca Boys and Girls Club Wednesday afternoon. - photo by JASON CAMPBELL

Ben Ruba’s face was red.

It was dripping juice.

And for five minutes Wednesday afternoon, he was in heaven, chowing through a piece of watermelon like a hyena through a steak.

Ruba didn’t necessarily win the eating contest at the Manteca Boys and Girls Club – one of a handful held every summer – as was evident by the piece of watermelon that he took away from the table after everything wrapped up.

But his eagerness represented the spirit of the afternoon, as did Martin Espinoza’s when he held up the white rind that remained after he finished first in his given age group.

“It’s fun to do something like this,” Espinoza said. “Winning prizes and stuff like that – it’s why I do it. But stuff like this is fun.”

With watermelons donated by George Perry and Sons, volunteers from Kohl’s – from stores in Manteca, Stockton, Lodi and other neighboring communities – helped oversee the organization of a handful of tables that quickly turned from neat to messy in a matter of seconds.

According to Boys and Girls Club Activities Director Mark McCool, the event is a one of a handful of chances for the members to do something different during the summer season and provides an opportunity for the Kohl’s volunteers – who also help the organization generate grant money – to get directly involved with the kids themselves.

“It’s one of the fun things that we do, and it gets the kids excited,” McCool said. “They get to eat some fresh fruit on a hot day, and it’s something that they can enjoy.”

McCool said that Kohl’s sends more than a dozen volunteers down to the club during the summer. The group collectively helps keep things humming when things are operating near their capacity.

Besides providing valuable assistance, the volunteers help the club generate valuable grant money needed to fund the programs that operate during the rest of the year – supplementing the income from the annual telethon and other grants that provide crucial funding.

“They’re a great partner and they work with us to provide employees that donate their own time to help work with the kids on Wednesdays,” McCool said. “On top of that we get a grant and that’s important in this day and age. We’re extremely grateful, and they have a lot of fun with the kids. You can see that with how they worked with them today.”