Christmas once again came early for a group of Oakdale children. A total of 160, to be exact, converged recently on Kohl’s in Riverbank, with smiling chaperones at their side.
While the closing of K-Mart may have appeared to be a roadblock to some, the Oakdale Lions proved once again – the heart of a Lion is both fierce and unstoppable.
On Wednesday, Dec. 18 the tradition of the Oakdale Lions Children’s Christmas Shopping Tour did indeed continue. The city? Different. Location? Also different. Yet the spirit of Christmas proved, just as in past years, to be alive and well.
The Kohl’s location offered a variety of differences than the shopping tour’s previous home at the Oakdale K-Mart. For some shoppers and chaperones it may have been a first time in the neighboring city’s store. A self-proclaimed non-shopper, Event Coordinator Greg Rivera shared it was a first time visit for him as well.
“Everyone adapted, everybody did what they had to do,” he said of the new location.
With several operational pieces different than previous years, Rivera shared he was pleasantly surprised when he went to pay and learned some Lions had handled the tab with their own credit cards, which the club will reimburse.
“It worked out real well,” he said.
The post-shopping party tradition continued, as shoppers were escorted to Sierra View Elementary School in Oakdale for a pizza party and a visit with Santa. Upon arriving at the multi-purpose room, they were each also treated to a wrapped gift from Santa. Orange Blossom 4-H offered their services in the area of wrapping the close to 175 gifts, to help Santa and his elves during the busy season.
“They did a beautiful job,” Rivera said of the gift wrapped age appropriate gifts. “Not only that, they had professional labels on the gifts (noting age and gender for gift).”
Two large bags of stuffed animals had also been donated, with a new furry stuffed friend given to any child showing interest.
With close to two decades of shopping tours under his belt, Rivera maintains his thoughts on the army it takes to keep the event going.
“Each doing a little bit goes a long way,” the coordinator said.
Of the many things Rivera enjoys seeing each year, one is chaperones bringing their children to help, referring to them as “future givers.”
“It’s truly a community event, just like Spirit of Oakdale,” he continued. “There’s no way we could do this without the Rummy girls and Kim (Leverett) and the community involvement.”
For the Oakdale Lions Club members, Rummy girls, community volunteers and chaperones one thing becomes certain, the work and preparation ahead of time becomes well worth it that night.
“The look they have on their face when they see Santa Claus, is magical. You can’t pay for that,” Rivera said, as he noted learning one year from some kids it was the first time they’d seen Santa at seven or eight years old.
Rivera also noted the true Rock Star status Santa proves to be, each and every year, sharing some time spent with Santa at the end of the evening this year and spying the children getting a final peek and a wave as they exited the multi-purpose room of Sierra View.
“When you see the smiles on the kids’ faces, it’s like ... this is all worth it, man,” Rivera said, with a crack in his voice. “It’s their special night.”
Donations of money and time bring the event to fruition and make the holidays brighter for dozens of local youngsters.
“Just once again, thanks to the community. The money rolled in very well,” Rivera concluded. “It’s just amazing. When you send out letters the day after Thanksgiving, they just get right on their checkbook and send money. Man the way Oakdale just … it’s amazing. I love this community.”