El Cajon Lions deliver holiday cheer with Christmas baskets for families in need

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For the 27th year, members of the El Cajon Valley Host Lions Club delivered Christmas baskets to feed needy families in East County during the holiday season. Early on the bright, cold morning of Dec. 20, around 40 volunteers with the local Lions Club gathered and began assembling donated food items into large boxes, which volunteer drivers took directly to the recipients’ homes. Participating in the charitable efforts, in addition to club members, were students from the El Cajon Valley High School Leos Club, whose members are junior associates working with the Lions.

Each box contained a December holiday dinner entrée, such as a turkey or ham, accompanied by canned and dry goods for fixing a festive meal. Other items in each box included such pantry staples as eggs, rice, noodles, cookies, cereal and soup mix. 

This holiday food program began in 1967, with 25 Christmas baskets delivered that first year. According to Lions Club member and delivery route driver Gary Robinson, during the intervening years, the annual tradition swelled to serve from 35 to 45 low-income East County families, as the needs grew. With recent economic conditions worsening, last year the El Cajon Lions delivered 100 December food boxes. For 2014, 110 families received Christmas baskets for a holiday feast, also with food for other meals. Each participating family has four to seven members.

Roy Collura, third vice president with the El Cajon Lions Club, is head organizer for this project. He said about half of the families tapped for the Christmas baskets had been identified as in being in serious need by the local Salvation Army. The others were enrolled through East County school nurses who also work with the Lions vision care programs for underprivileged students. “This is 

 good strategic alliance with the Salvation Army,” Collura said. “They know how to select only the truly needy for us to help. I am impressed by the number of members of the club who come to do this, and the Leos.”

He pointed toward one Lion readying boxes for delivery.

“Bob brought his two grandsons to help out. It’s important for the kids, going to houses to see how the less fortunate live, that it’s not all electronics and big-screen TVs out there,” he aid. “We don’t turn anyone away if they ask and say they are hungry. Any leftover food we will put back to use for the Salvation Army and other local organizations. We really try to make this fair.”

The San Diego Food Bank offered the Lions a deep discount on food items for the baskets. Lions Club member Tom Hoban provided use of the garage and driveway of his Hoban Property Management business, at 215 W. Lexington Avenue, for staging the Christmas Basket assembly and delivery.

Davin Lee Daniel was there with his Lion father, James, assisting by carrying loaded boxes to the private cars of volunteer drivers. “These are really heavy,” he said with satisfaction as he hoisted a box into Robinson’s truck.

Mercy Walters, one of four women in the 70-member El Cajon Valley Host Lions Club, is currently the group’s president and the first female to serve a term in this leadership role. She described the history of the Christmas basket project, from her eight years with the program. Better organization of the event has halved the amount of time needed for the food box deliveries and lowered the cost of the program, allowing the Lions to increase the number of families aided.

After the morning Christmas basket deliveries, Walters was to be one of 10 Lions volunteering as Salvation Army Red Kettle bell ringers during that Saturday afternoon. She explained that 10 of her club members would help out with that fundraising outreach on f Dec. 13-14 and Dec. 20-21.

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