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Surveillance Co. a Santa’s Workshop

December 14, 2000

CLOVIS, Calif. (AP) _ Far from the North Pole, at a company better known for keeping an eye out for crooks, workers are busy looking out for needy good girls and boys.

Under the din of machinery that punches, mills and drills parts that workers will assemble into Pelco video security systems, there is a makeshift Santa’s workshop.

Tonka trucks, Barbie dolls and basketballs are piled around a warehouse Christmas tree. Wooden trains sit on a desk. A little red wagon and bicycle are scattered in an office. Candyland and Battleship games fill the back seat of a saleswoman’s car.

They are merely a fraction of the estimated 140,000 toys to be trucked away Thursday to the Marine Toys for Tots program in 18-wheelers and troop transport vehicles.

It’s a particularly impressive bounty when you consider that half the toys are given by Pelco’s 1,200 employees _ an average of about 60 toys each. The company matches their gift.

Bill Grein, vice president for Marine Toys for Tots Foundation in Quantico, Va., had never heard of Pelco until Wednesday, but said a gift of that size was amazing. Some corporations give more, but rarely does such abundant giving come from the workshop floor.

``The ones who make the least, give the most,″ said Marilyn J. Stebles, an executive assistant in Pelco’s manufacturing division. ``They know what it’s like. It’s tougher on them, but ratio-wise they are a lot more generous.″

Irene Estrada grew up in a poor part of neighboring Fresno and knows the heartache of going without toys on Christmas. Through soda and candy sales, she and co-workers raised about $3,000 this year.

``We think about the ones who don’t have a job,″ she said as she took a break from pressing parts onto sheet metal. ``We can give them what their own mother can’t give.″

If Estrada and her co-workers in the company’s three warehouses are the elves, then company President David McDonald is Santa Claus.

With 1 million security systems around the world _ from casinos to the Statue of Liberty to Buckingham Palace _ McDonald could probably claim to know whether you’ve been naughty or nice. But he’d rather play a big brother of a different kind, presiding over a campaign that culminates Thursday when all the toys are amassed at his headquarters in this city on the edge of the Sierra foothills.

``It’s unbelievable, it’s like taking a whole Toys R Us and dumping it upside down in one pile,″ McDonald said.

And that assessment is based on last year’s haul of 73,768 toys, about half this year’s estimate.

The toy take has grown exponentially since 1993 when two workers noticed a barrel for donating toys was woefully empty.

Mary Erisman and a colleague worked the shop floor, rolling the barrel up and down the aisles calling for contributions. As toys began to flow in _ 808 that year _ competition grew between different assembly lines.

Now three teams compete year-round for bragging rights. They raffle prizes, sell tacos and hold bake sales.

Competition is cutthroat and with less than 24 hours remaining Wednesday, each team was keeping their number of toys under wraps.

Team leaders talk of sleepless nights, delayed surgery and even giving up dating as the contest gets down to the wire.

``The competition totally drives it,″ Stebles said. ``Why would I give up all my boyfriends for a month? I want to win.″

In the final hours, team leaders were scrambling to spend the last of their cash. Erisman, who buys all the matching gifts, had to buy 11,000 toys two hours before the deadline last year.

``They hit us pretty hard, they clean us out pretty good,″ said Clebo Wheatly, store manager of Target in Clovis.

Carol Gilio, who leads the sales team, is accustomed to getting strange looks as she wends her way through the toy aisles with jumbo shopping carts and thousands of dollars to spend.

One woman got tears in her eyes and hugged Gilio when she explained what she was doing. As Gilio passed through the checkout, the woman screamed out, ``I think you’re wonderful.″


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