Captain Eddie Thompson of the local volunteer unit said their communal efforts stemmed from various organizations, including Toys for Tots, put on by the military, and Turlock City Fire’s annual Toy Drive. Although many of the local volunteer firefighters have experience working for Toys for Tots, they were saddened to realize that their efforts were not affecting the children within their area. To resolve the situation, Thompson and Captain Brad Freeman began their own toy drive and Santa Claus visits by incorporating the local volunteer firefighters, who stressed the importance of serving families in their own community.
“We want the kids in our community to have something to open on Christmas morning,” said Thompson. “So far, we’ve made everyone really happy, and we get great quality stuff for the kids. The community really comes together and works hard on this.”
Although Freeman passed away last year, support for the local toy drive has only increased. Every year, families line up outside their homes with unwrapped, donated toys, waiting for Santa Claus to appear— not on his sleigh— but in a fire engine.
This year, Thompson said Santa Claus will be riding around town looking for donations Wednesday, Dec. 11 to Sunday, Dec. 15 in the Patterson area, and will visit Diablo Grande on Tuesday, Dec. 17.
The east side of Patterson, beyond Second Street, will be their first stop on Dec. 11, followed by a trip on Dec. 12 through the neighborhoods between Ward and Sperry Avenues and Highway 33, including Colony Park. On Friday, Dec. 13, Santa Claus will be in Heartland Ranch, and on Saturday, Dec. 14, he will make his way to Walker Ranch, and will be outside of Wal-Mart, CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens from noon to 4 p.m. On Sunday, Dec. 15, he will be in neighborhoods south of Sperry Avenue, and will end his route on Tuesday, Dec. 17 in Diablo Grande.
To help citizens easily follow Santa’s route, the local volunteers created a Facebook page, Patterson Volunteer Firefighters Operation Santa Claus. They also update their page frequently before and after every visit, and update rain delays and schedule times.
Blue barrels have also been placed throughout local businesses in the Patterson area, including Blues Café, Pizza Plus, the local banks, Amazon.com, Kohl’s and Grainger amongst many others.
On Dec. 19, the station will host an assembly line of various volunteers to sort the toys by age groups.
“We’ve had the Girl Scouts come help; Vernalis 4-H donated bikes,” said Thompson, reminiscing last year’s efforts. “Basically, volunteers come out and bring refreshments, hot chocolate and cookies. It started out with just firefighters, their wives, and now we have more people helping out than toys.”
Tuesday, Dec. 20 is designated for parents to pick up their child’s toy. To ensure that every child gets what they want, parents are asked to bring in their child’s wish list. If the item cannot be found or was not given away as a donation, something as similar as possible to the original item will be granted instead.
The most sought after toy tends to be a bicycle, said Thompson, but basketballs, footballs and other asexual toys are popular as well.
Although all entries are encouraged, volunteers tend to have a harder time securing presents for older children, such as 16-year-olds, said Toy Chairman Brandon Cousins. He believes gift cards, wallets and perfumes tend to be great gifts for that select age group.
Last year, their efforts helped 900 children in the West Side receive a new toy for the holidays. This year, the goal has been raised, and the local volunteers are hoping to obtain 1,200 donated items.
“Last year was very successful,” said Cousins. “The community is very giving and we hope this continues. We are hoping the gifts get to the families that need them.”
To keep track of Santa’s route, visit the Patterson Volunteer Firefighters Operation Santa Clause Facebook page at http://on.fb.me/1bxx20H
Contact Brooke Borba at 892-6187, ext. 24, or firstname.lastname@example.org.