With the holidays just around the corner, Lodi Adopt-A-Child (LAAC) volunteers are in full swing organizing their annual Christmas Wish program. Last year, the community came together to provide presents to over 800 underprivileged children in the Lodi area.
Police Officer Dennis Lewis founded the Christmas Wish program in the mid-1980s when he noticed an increasing number of families unable to celebrate the holiday. His compassion served as the genesis of LAAC, which became a nonprofit in 1989.
Today, the LAAC continues its mission to identify at-risk youth in Lodi, and to provide them with basic necessities such as clothes, shoes, and backpacks.
The new president of LAAC, Matt Teresi, explains that families who are in need can fill out an application that is reviewed within certain criteria. On the application, children up to 14 years old can express what they would like for Christmas in the form of clothing and toys. LAAC then puts these requests on “Angel Cards,” which community members and local organizations can pick up and fulfill.
Teresi says that the majority of these kids are asking for necessary gifts related to clothing, school supplies, and sometimes bicycles.
“A lot of those kids are using those bikes as their form of transportation to school in the morning,” Teresi says. “And so it really provides a great service and a source of hope for those kids into the future.”
“What we find is a lot of families who have younger kids go shopping for another kid of their similar age,” said Teresi. “What we’ve observed is that a lot of families enjoy doing that at that time of the year and it’s a great way to change their frame of reference.”
Angel Cards will be available for pick up at 100 E. Pine St. in Lodi from mid to late November.
“If it wasn’t for the support of the Lodi community and the City of Lodi, the Christmas Wish program would have a lot of challenges and possibly cease to exist,” expresses a grateful Teresi.
Thanks to years of overwhelming support for the Christmas Wish program, Teresi and LAAC volunteers wanted to take it a step further and help local youth succeed year around. As a result, they started a new program called Hope Outfitters. “The purpose of Hope Outfitters is to instill a sense of hope within the children of Lodi,” Teresi explains. “It’s a really important and transformative time for kids, especially K-eighth-graders.”
Teresi shares that although going to school is often the highlight of a child’s day, sometimes teachers notice that these kids have worn out shoes, or have been wearing the same clothes for two weeks.
“There’s a lot of principals out there who are buying jackets on their own to make sure that kids have the basics,” Teresi says.
The LAAC is partnering with these local principals, superintendents, and teachers to identify the needs of Lodi students. They launched a pilot program at the end of last school year, followed by full implementation this fall.
“The schools have been great to work with on this and what we really want to do is support teachers who are identifying these kids in need of basic necessities and supply them in a way that is efficient,” Teresi says.
In addition to Hope Outfitters, LAAC awarded the first-ever Claude Brown Memorial Scholarship to two graduating seniors last school year. According to Teresi, Brown previously served as LAAC’s President, and was a driving force behind the organization before his sudden passing in 2018.
“The best way to say it is he made things happen,” describes Teresi. “Claude made things happen because he had a big heart and he spent a lot of time serving the community.”
Teresi gave an example of how Brown would often buy a bunch of tickets for fundraising events and then disperse them to the community.
The LAAC decided to establish the Claude Brown Memorial Scholarship in honor of Brown’s time and dedication to the local community.
Teresi said that Brown was also very brilliant when it came to engineering and agricultural engineering. The idea is to award the scholarship to kids who are working hard and pursuing a career in such fields.
“My great grandpa had a phrase,” Teresi said. “He said that trees are easier to straighten when they’re young. By the time they get old, they are grown and are harder to get to where they’re going straight.
“He used that as an analogy for raising kids and I kind of think the same way with our organization. If we can find kids who are in need early on in life, it’s a lot easier to help those kids get on the right track before life comes at them even more. So they can be successful.”