The holidays are still months away, but already Turlock Together is preparing for another season of providing families in need with food and toys for Christmas — hopefully. The charity organization is at risk of ceasing operations for good if able-bodied volunteers don’t step up to help, as many of the group’s core participants are dealing with the physical limitations that come with age.
The voluntary cooperation of ministries, businesses, churches, service clubs and community workers is known for its iconic blue barrels that can be seen around town as part of an annual fundraising effort, which collects unwrapped toys and non-perishable food items for families in need.
At Turlock Together’s first meeting on June 25, however, the organization realized they simply may not have the man power needed to make their mission a reality this year.
“At the first meeting we decided that we’re a bit too old, to be frank,” Salvation Army Major Debi Shrum said. “The barrels are our biggest concern. When they’re filled, they’re about 300, 400 pounds and when you get to be in your 60s and 70s, that’s not an easy life.”
A majority of Turlock Together’s volunteers are around age 65, Shrum said. They’re the ones who help transport barrels from their sites at various businesses, schools and churches around town to the Turlock Fruit Company, where they’re sorted into boxes to be picked up by families. The organization is in search of a new volunteer crop: community members who are either retired, or have the available free time to dedicate toward a worthy cause.
Should Turlock Together not find any new volunteers, the group has two options, Shrum said. Turlock Together will either cease to exist altogether, or the program would be modified to no longer include barrels, but boxes around town, rather, which would yield a significantly smaller bounty of donations.
“We think we would maybe get about half of what we usually receive,” Shrum said. “It would affect us, but we want to be able to serve the community who needs food and toys at Christmas.”
The core group of senior volunteers have made Turlock Together a reality since the late 1990s, Shrum said, when then-Mayor Curt Andre called upon the different charity organizations throughout town to join forces toward one common goal. Since then, they’ve come together annually to volunteer a month’s worth of their time, logging hours upon hours per day of hauling barrels, sorting food and filling boxes. Groups from around town typically pitch in as well, Shrum added, like Boy and Girl Scouts, Stanislaus State Greek organizations and church youth groups.
“The reason we’ve all stayed together for so long is that we see the need,” she said. “It’s a lot of time, but it’s well worth it.”
Last year, Turlock Together provided toys for 3,000 children and served boxes of food to 1,200 families. This year not only is the organization in search of those willing to help with the heavy work, but for trailers to haul the items as well, and groups or individuals who would like to help pack the boxes. If not, the program will change drastically — if it continues.
“If we can’t reduce the program the way we need to, then we would have to disband,” Shrum said. “There would be quite a few people without Christmas boxes.”
Those who would like to donate their time to Turlock Together can contact Lissette at 209-669-5366 ext. 101.
“If you’re looking for something to do to make Christmas more than just bunch of gifts, Turlock Together is it,” Shrum said.