Although 60 Lodi children weren't going to see all of their parents this Christmas because they're in Iraq, the local National Guard unit was still throwing a party.
Plans were made and the date was set.
A local restaurant was helping cater food, and Santa would bring each child a present.
Then the disconcerting news came on Friday, two weeks before the party. The group in charge of buying and wrapping presents suddenly pulled out.
With less than two weeks to go, and with the Thanksgiving holiday in between, Guard officials began scrambling. They contacted the Lodi Fire Department, which wasn't about to turn down such a request.
"These people are serving our country, so whatever they need, we're going to do our best to give it to them," Fire Capt. Mike Lair said Tuesday. "I'm an ex-Marine, and I totally support our local group."
Lair's goal is to launch a "grassroots effort," hoping the community will help by donating money and toys. He has a list with each child's name and age - ranging from 3 months to 17 years - and he fully intends to have a gift for each one by Dec. 1.
That tight deadline means all toys and donations must be received by a week from Friday.
Lair became even more determined when he heard that Lodi's Guard members are currently in the heart of Iraq, moving in large convoys. In other words, while the "safety in numbers" idea is often true, it doesn't always work if extremists want an easy target with lots of military vehicles.
"They've got the dirtiest job over there," Lair said.
"These people aren't wealthy. A lot of these guys do it for a part-time job, and some of them quit their jobs to go over there," he added.
The group that had planned to donate presents apparently got overwhelmed, said Sgt. Travis Cunningham, the military's point contact between the soldiers and their families.
Checks may be made out to Lodi Professional Firefighters, and cash is also welcome.
Boxes are placed at each fire station, but fire officials asked that anyone making a monetary donation check in with firefighters to make sure the money is placed in safe keeping.
For more information, contact Capt. Mike Lair at 570-9134.
"They were going to be providing for the whole battalion, which is about 800 soldiers throughout the state," said Cunningham, who did not identify the group.
The Guard instantly started trying to find people to help.
"One way or another, we'll pull this off," said Lair, who is determined not to let down the children of the Alpha Battery's 1st Battalion of the 143rd Field Artillery.
The soldiers left Lodi in late May for what the military said then would be a deployment of at least a year. They received several months of training in the States before heading overseas, and they have now been in Iraq for a couple months.
Their family members spent part of Saturday packing boxes to send overseas in time for Christmas, with donations from Frito Lay and Starbucks, Cunningham said. But the Dec. 1 party is intended to recognize the families who are left at home.
Lodi firefighters intend to get presents in time, and then they'll all get together with their own families to wrap the gifts, Lair said.
Donation boxes are now set outside each of Lodi's four fire stations, and anyone is welcome to drop off toys.
It's not so easy to buy things that would suit any teenager, so firefighters are also asking for monetary donations so they can purchase gifts for specific children.
Checks and cash may be taken to the fire stations, which are staffed 24 hours a day.