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Christmas charity in dire need of toys, food
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In the holiday season, everyone’s budget gets stretched a bit thin to achieve the proper amount of merriment. But for those truly in need – the recently jobless, those struggling just to make ends meet –any merriment at all can be just a Christmas wish.

Thankfully, cities like Turlock band together to help those less fortunate.

Turlock Together, a group composed of the Turlock Unified School District, City of Turlock, non-profits, businesses, and churches, hopes to gather 6,000 new toys for needy families this Christmas. This year, however, with everyone facing more need and less means than before, only 500 toys have been collected.

“This is our most challenging year,” said Salvation Army Major Debi Shrum, a member of Turlock Together. “The number of families needing help this year is greater than ever before. We are concerned that families may be turned away empty handed.”

Over the more than 15 years Turlock Together has gathered food and toys for needy Turlock area families, members have seen the positive effects that gifts can have first-hand. While the Turlock community has always donated enough in the past, the dire economic straits and unprecedented amount of folks in need could combine to result in toy-less children come Christmas morning.

 “It brings a little bit of joy and a little more childhood to a child when they can have even one Christmas present under the tree,” Shrum said. “It gives them a little hope.”

Turlock Together has placed blue barrels around town – in businesses, at all Turlock Fire Stations, and at the Salvation Army building at 893 Lander Ave. –  as drop off points for toys for children age 0-12 and canned food. Angel trees are also located at businesses around town, offering tags to remind shoppers to buy toys for children.

“We don’t need the really complicated, wonderful, expensive toys,” Shrum said. “You can probably get something really simple a kid would love and get five or six for the same price.”

Shrum suggested toy cars, dolls, books and board games as good gift ideas.

Word about Turlock Together’s drastic need has already begun to make the rounds, drawing new partners into the effort. For the first time, California State University, Stanislaus will participate.

“This year we heard about it, we heard about the need, and we were really inspired to get something going,” said CSU Stanislaus spokeswoman Eve Hightower.

The blue Turlock Together barrels will be placed around the university to accept donations, and messages will go out to students, faculty, and administrators alike in efforts to unite the campus community behind the event.

Just as important as the toys in Turlock Together’s plans, food donations are equally needed. Turlock Together works to send a perishable and a non-perishable food box to each of the 2,000 families who receive the group’s assistance.

In an effort to buy more food for families, a Realtors Canned Tree breakfast will be held from 7:30 a.m. – 9 a.m. on Dec. 1 at the Turlock War Memorial for just $5. All proceeds will go to food for Turlock Together.

There are still 35 shopping days until Christmas, but Turlock Together needs to have things collected by early December to sort and prepare the presents for families. All gifts will be delivered on Dec. 18 and Dec. 20.

In another new, last-minute attempt to gather more gifts and food, Turlock Together will sponsor a float at the Dec. 3 Turlock Downtown Christmas Parade.

“We just thought that because they are so low on toys and they’re assuming they’re going to have more families this year, that they’re going to have to collect more things,” said Turlock City Councilwoman Mary Jackson, who works with Turlock Together

Local dignitaries will walk the parade route to collect canned food and toy donations during the parade. Blue barrels will be placed on-site to further aid in collections.

“The whole thing is, if half the people at the parade brought a can of food, that would be 7,500 cans of food,” Jackson said. “If every family brought a toy…” she trailed off.

Those donations will go directly to helping people in need, like Levell Simmons. Simmons lost his job recently, making times tough for his family of five with two girls and a boy.

Through programs like Turlock Together, Simmons is receiving the assistance he needs to make it through the hard times and get back on his feet.

“I just want to say that the program is here to help you,” Simmons said. “…I advise people that are having a hard time to check it out because not that many people know about it.”

For more information or to get involved with Turlock Together, visit or call 620-4910.

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.