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Army brings gifts to little troopers
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Army recruiter SSgt. Kris Gillespie smiles as he watches Alexis Bonilla, 2, of Ceres, pick out a gift at the new Ceres site of the Childrens Crisis Center of Stanislaus County. The recruiters showed up all five county sites to brighten the holidays of children being given respite care while their families find stability. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Life has not always been easy for the children who find themselves in the new Ceres site of the Children's Crisis Center of Stanislaus County. But Christmas gifts presented to 18 children by three local U.S. Army recruiters and their wives on Friday morning definitely took their little minds off any worries they may have had.

Modesto Army recruiters staff sergeants Brian Bischoff and wife Kristen, Kris Gillespie and wife Lori, and Robert Kruppstadt and wife Heidi spread holiday cheer at all five sites operated by the center. They showed up with boxes of gifts for children collected from the community. Before the gifts were distributed, recruiters and wives visited with the kids, some who were shy and some more talkative.

"A lot of those kids are pretty deprived," said SSgt. Bischoff, "so if we can give anything back to the community and provide hope for the holidays that's what we'd like to do."

The toys were collected through the Operation Warrior Foundation and intended for family members of the soldiers, he said, but need was greater outside of the military.

The Children's Crisis Center of Stanislaus County has been in existence for 33 years but until recently did not have a Ceres location. The center snagged the green building on Whitmore Avenue near Ceres High School to open the center in early November.

The Ceres center is licensed to care for 22 children and eight infants. A total of eight staff members watch the children.

"For the most part we reach our capacity," said site supervisor Annie Ortega.

The center offers intervention and respite care services for families and children in crisis. The program takes in babies through 17-year-olds. The center sees its mission as preventing child abuse before it happens by providing "safe places for children to go during some very difficult and critical times within their families that present a threat to their health and safety and overall well-being."

Many times a child comes to the center through a referral from Child Protective Services, the Women's Haven, Head Starts and Sierra Vista.

The Ceres center typically provides services for children from 6:30 a.m. or 7 a.m. until 8:30 p.m. but only one Modesto center provides emergency overnight services.

"There's families that can utilize our services for a day, two days, a week, two weeks and there's other families that need a little bit more," said Ortega.

For homeless families seeking permanent shelter, services can be extended to children for months.

"By being in this community it'll increase the ease of accessibility and we think it will also provide for extended services to families who might not otherwise get to our program," said Colleen Garcia.

The Ceres center is the Children's Crisis Center's fifth site. Three operate in Modesto, one in Turlock and one in Oakdale. Garcia said while Ceres has been given services by the center from day one, Garcia said transportation was an issue for some.

In the last nine months, the program has provided care for 1,400 children in the county, many from Ceres.

The center relies on charitable giving for 40 percent of its income. As a non-profit organization, the center accepts donations through its website, The center maintains a 24-hour crisis line at 577-4413.