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Volunteers loaded food and gifts Saturday morning for delivery to families in the Gustine Unified School District facing hard times this holiday season. 

GUSTINE - Christmas came knocking at the doorsteps of dozens of local families in need Saturday morning.

Gustine Lions Club members and community volunteers loaded up trailers and pickup trucks to make their rounds, delivering boxes of food and bags of gifts to some 61 families in the Gustine Unified School District facing tough times this holiday season.

Tiffany Vitorino, who organizes the annual Lions Club food and toy campaign, said the families served included 267 children whose holidays were brightened through the generosity of a caring community.

Each family, she said, received two boxes of food as well as a turkey, milk and bread.

The non-perishable food items are donated by the community, with the bulk either dropped off at the Christmas in the Park event held last Wednesday evening or left for Lions Club members to collect from doorsteps as they made the rounds of the community Friday morning in a long-standing tradition once known as the club’s “porchlight parade.”

Organizers of smaller food drives also dropped off their items to be distributed through the Lions Club.

“Before they even went out Friday night, this (the Goman Center) was full with all the different food drives that people do,” Vitorino commented.

The Lions Club used community donations to purchase the milk, turkeys and bread, Vitorino noted.

Each child also received two to four gifts.

“We tried to give the younger ones three or four,” Vitorino said. “The older ones received a little less.”

A toy drive organized by the Miss Gustine court generated not only a substantial amount of gifts but an abundance of food items as well, she noted.

“The Friday night pickup was a little less (than usual), but the other activities were a little more,” Vitorino explained. “There were a lot of toys in the barrels but not much out in the community on Friday. It was more food on Friday.”

In addition, some 75 coats donated through the Knights of Columbus at the Shrine of Our Lady of Miracles and a coat drive conducted by OLM Catholic School’s pre-school class were distributed Saturday. Clothing dropped off at an OLM Catholic School giving tree were also handed out, Vitorino told Mattos Newspapers.

An army of volunteers helped sort food and wrap gifts Friday evening in the Al Goman Community Center. Joining the Lions Club members were Miss Gustine Aubrie Hazan and her court, members of the Westside 4-H Club, players from the Gustine High JV basketball team and Renaissance students from Gustine High, as well as community volunteers.

The annual toy and food deliveries are only possible through the generosity of numerous organizations and individuals, as well as the willingness of community members to volunteer their time.

“It definitely is a community-wide effort,” Vitorino commented.