A little bit about a lot of things:

• Deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Gustine’s Joe DeGregori.

To me, Joe was “Mr. Gustine” in many ways.

His involvements and contributions to the community are too numerous to recount....Joe was a truly remarkable man with a love for his family, his community and, well, pretty much anybody he had the opportunity to help.

He was the ultimate “people person,” always with a smile on his face and a joke to share.

Running into Joe always meant that your day got a little better and brighter; on more than one occasion he gave me a much-needed boost over the years. He left you smiling.....because you just couldn’t help yourself!

We need more people like Joe DeGregori in our communities and our lives, but those types of folks don’t come along often.

You will read more about this beloved community icon elsewhere in this edition, but suffice to say that I am among many who will deeply miss Joe.....and whose lives are better for having known him.

• Community spirit shines brightly this holiday season, including a long-standing Gustine tradition which will be renewed Friday evening when the Gustine Lions Club (with the help of numerous volunteers) conducts its community food/toy drive, followed by wrapping, packaging and preparing boxes for distribution the following morning.

The Lions Club spearheads the campaign, but overall it is a community effort.

Once known as a “porchlight parade,” I have found references to the food drive dating back many decades in our archives.

The premise has remained unchanged.....lending a helping hand at the holidays to those less fortunate.

I have, on a couple of occasions, made the rounds to help deliver food and toys to recipient families supported by community drives in both Gustine and Newman.

To do so is a humble reminder of how blessed many of us are.

Hearing stories of children more excited about the food deliveries than the brightly-wrapped Christmas gifts lends powerful perspective to the hardships too many families face.

Poverty persists in our communities, and the need is likely greater than ever given the pandemic-related hardships so many face this holiday season. Many families lack basic necessities which we take for granted, and in some cases their circumstances are truly heart-breaking.

But our communities always come through to brighten the holidays, and I am confident that this year will be no exception.

Organizations in Newman and Gustine will be distributing food, clothing, blankets and gifts this Saturday.

In Newman, we’re told that support for the toy/clothing drive conducted by the Chamber of Commerce and city was nothing short of phenomenal. That drive came to a conclusion Monday.

The Gustine Lions Club food drive and Miss Gustine toy drive wraps up with the neighborhood collections Friday evening. Food and toys can be left on doorsteps to be picked up (please leave your porch light on).

This has been a year unlike any other, without doubt.

But the spirit of giving and caring for others less fortunate remains ingrained in the fabric of our communities.

• With election winners being seated, we say farewell to a number of local officials who have dedicated themselves to serving our communities....the list is most likely not comprehensive, so I’ll ask forgiveness in advance from anybody not listed - if you served, thank you!

The list of folks stepping down includes Newman Mayor Bob Martina and Gustine City Councilman Joe Oliveira. Each was on the governing body of their respective city for more than 20 years.....that’s a remarkable record of selfless service!

Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini is wrapping up a 16-year run of representing District 5, which includes the West Side. I have been following governmental agencies for many, many years, and I would be hard-pressed to recall an elected official who worked harder than DeMartini.

Gustine school board member Pat Rocha stepped down after 13 years as a trustee.....she also previously served on the Gustine City Council, so Rocha has certainly done her part to provide a voice on Gustine’s governing bodies.

Others include Murray Day, who served five years on the Newman City Council; Craig Turner, who served four years on the Gustine City Council; and Charles Tanner, who stepped in as an appointee for the local ambulance board for the last year and a half or so.

Public service is not easy. I have sat through more meetings than I could begin to count.....and I would be the first to acknowledge that I don’t have a clue as to what it is like to sit on the other side of the table.

Thank you all for your service to our communities.

Dean Harris the Managing Editor of the West Side Index and Gustine Press-Standard. He can be reached at dharris@mattosnews.com or by calling (209) 243-8104.