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Many make merry for Ceres needy
Boxes of food and gifts - enough for 144 families with an estimated 600 children - were distributed Thursday evening at the Ceres Community Center through a collective community effort of several groups of caring individuals.

"Everything ran smoothly with all the volunteers," said Traci Farris who helps manage the city recreation department. "We had so many volunteers that it was easy and seamless. I saw lots of kids leaving with their bags really excited."

Food and gifts were distributed to needy families based on referrals from the Ceres Unified School District. Boxes filled with holiday food items, a turkey, a pie and four to five gifts for one child. Children also got to visit with one of two sets of Santa and Mrs. Claus and received candy canes. Each school in Ceres was given a distribution time at the center.

City employees organized the holiday food and gift drive as Ceres Hands of Compassion and joined forces with the Ceres Partnership for Healthy Children. Also assisting to collect and distribute goods for the needy were the Ceres police officers and firefighters associations, the city Department of Recreation, United Pentecostal Church of Ceres, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and Sons of the American Legion and VFW Auxiliary. La Cascada Mexican Restaurant contributed food for the event while the VFW and Legion donated $500 each to buy holiday dinner items. Members of the Ceres Senior Citizens Club brought in toys which they collected.

The collection of new, unwrapped toys, clothing, food and blankets began Nov. 29 and ended Dec. 11. Items were collected at the Ceres Community Center, Ceres Police Station, City Hall, Ceres Fire Station #1 and the Ceres Partnership for Healthy Children office at Fourth and North streets. Because there were fewer larger gifts, the Dollar Store kicked in a donation of smaller children's toys.

Farris said she was touched by Karen May's fifth-graders from Virginia Parks Elementary School who brought in 15 shoeboxes filled with gifts. Because Central Valley High School conducted its own gift drive, lots of leftover wrapping paper was donated to Hands of Compassion.

Distribution of the goodies started at 4 p.m. and already a line of recipients braved a chilly evening air.

"They were excited to be there," said Farris.