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November 23, 2013

Santa’s elves busy making kids happy in Modesto

Busy elves were buying, filling double-checked lists from local churches and schools on a Walmart shopping spree. Modesto Regional Fire Authority firefighters had $40,000 to spend and 330 needy kids to buy for, organizers said.

Santa’s elves got busy, scouring the McHenry Avenue Walmart for good buys in favorite colors and characters for 330 needy children.

The Saturday morning shop-a-thon will give youngsters in about 100 families a coat, shoes, an outfit and at least one toy, said organizer Justin Crone, a Modesto Regional Fire Authority firefighter.

Firefighters and their families, teachers and the extended Crone clan pitched in to do the picking, following letters to Santa collected from every child with shoe and clothing sizes, color preferences and toy wishes. The $40,000 Crone was spending came from a benefit golf tournament. With a discount from Walmart and help from FoodMaxx, the $120 per child will be enough for a merry Christmas.

“The real joy is when the firetruck drops the bags off at our school. Those kids, their eyes just light up,” said Shelby Anderson, a teacher at Mary Ann Sanders Elementary. “I know kids like these. I see it in my classroom. Knowing they’re going to be warm this winter gives me a warm feeling.”

Dan and Shirley Goman shopped for items in little-girl pink, fun for them since all their grandchildren are boys, they said with a laugh. Donny Sanchez, selecting clothes with son Aiden, 7, said he’d rather be picking out toys. But, he added, “It’s nice to help out.”

Tiina Johnston’s Santa gifts included sparkly boots – “How fun is that?” – as well as undies, pants, shirt, a jacket and, if her budget could stretch, pajamas. A teacher at Earl Elementary in Turlock, she said, “We see the need all the time.”

Daughter 10-year-old Emma Johnston helped grown-ups with clothing advice. Buying for children in need was better than shopping for herself. “You get a better feeling,” she said.

That’s what Jennifer Sanchez wanted her children to realize. “More than anything, I wanted to bring my kids out and have them see what it’s like to help other people,” she said, pushing a cart with 5-year-old Landon in tow.

“I have children at home, so I know how important children’s wishes and needs are,” said Yesenia Flores, as she searched for a child’s favorite character on a knit top.

Over in toys, Zachary Macklin, 8, guided mom Christina Macklin to best choices in action figures. Note to self: Some don’t move much.

Macklin and Brenda Brown followed a spreadsheet of toy choices that would be matched later with children’s clothing. Choices were followed as closely as possible. “After all, pants are pants, but toys are special,” Brown said. The team had just finished overfilling a cart with a pink pile of baby dolls and Barbies – $707 at the register – and were back for boy toys.

About 45 volunteers were filling the carts, taking them to two registers set aside for the high-volume shoppers. The fire department Letters to Santa drive started nine years ago, helping 80 kids, Crone said, as he signed off on a $900 purchase.

Later, he’ll gather turkey and all the trimmings from FoodMaxx, and a hot meal for a homeless family living in a car. All the work is worth it when the firetrucks drop off the boxes for the families, he said, “When you do the drops, it motivates you for next year.”

As a firefighter, Crone said, “We see the good and bad of everything. This is a way for us to give back to the community that gives so much to us.”

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