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Volunteers help Turlock come together
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Emily Wilson helps sort cans of corn for Turlock Together on Tuesday night at the Turlock Fruit Company warehouse (ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal).

Volunteers worked tirelessly Tuesday night to sort, package and prepare donations pulled from Turlock Together’s trademark blue barrels over the past week, which have slowly disappeared from their locations at schools, fire stations and businesses around the city as this weekend’s distribution day approaches.

Annually, local businesses, churches, nonprofits and other organizations join forces to provide for Turlock’s less fortunate, forming the decades-old team known as Turlock Together. The Salvation Army is at the head of this effort, distributing blue barrels to participating businesses for the collection of non-perishable food items and new toys.

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Hilmar 4-H member Manuel Bettencourt places cans of tomato sauce into distribution boxes (ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal).

These collections are stored at the Turlock Fruit Company, and then sorted in the days preceding Saturday’s distribution — a huge event for families who have registered to receive donations. Each family is provided with a box of non-perishable food, a box of perishable food and children 10 and under receive a toy.

The food is meant to not only provide food for families leading up to the Christmas holiday, but afterwards as well.

“This way they can still have a traditional Christmas dinner, but then also have a couple more days’ worth of food,” Turlock Salvation Army Corps Major Debi Shrum said. “In some ways it’s a lot of work, but it’s well worth it and a lot of fun to see people year after year coming back to help.”

Turlock Together was in danger of disbanding this year due to a lack of volunteers, but enough community members stepped up in time to make sure all of the barrels around town were picked up. While donations were down this year according to lead volunteer Jeff Lorenzi, there were so many volunteers looking to help that some groups had to be turned away.

Lorenzi was at the warehouse Tuesday night, along with members of Hilmar 4-H, sorting barrels of food into boxes for distribution. Thanks to generous donations from events, like the Central Valley Association of Realtor’s CanTree Breakfast food offering, and organizations, like the Hell’s Angels motorcycle club, which donated toys over the weekend, there will be enough to provide supplies and toys to over 1,100 families.

In addition to Hilmar 4-H, other groups like local Boy Scouts, FFA members, Pitman High School’s Future Business Leaders of America club and Walnut Elementary School’s leadership program have made their way down to the Turlock Fruit Company to help with the sorting. While businesses from around town have joined the cause as well, such as Yosemite Farm Credit and Target, Lorenzi said it’s especially meaningful to see Turlock’s youth volunteer year after year.

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Hilmar 4-H is just one of countless groups who have volunteered to sort food for Turlock Together (ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal).

“It’s nice to see that, and you hope it transpires as they get older into continuing to give and participating in other leadership opportunities,” Lorenzi said. “It’s nice when the youth comes in to help because they have a tremendous amount of enthusiasm — and you need a lot of that when you’re folding boxes.”

Hilmar High School freshman and Hilmar 4-H member Joseph Raner was helping sort food for the second time on Tuesday, and said that, surprisingly, folding boxes was his favorite part.

“It’s like a puzzle,” Raner laughed. “It feels good because I’m not only helping my community, but the community of Turlock as well. It’s a fun experience.”

Turlock Together’s distribution day will take place Dec. 21, and the organization will also offer a free Christmas dinner from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 25 at The Salvation Army, 893 Lander Ave.