By AMY LINDBLOM
Call it paintball war games with a Christmas theme.
Toys for Tots Family Paintball Fun Day is a way for Dave Mason and his friends to blow off some steam, have a Saturday barbecue with their families and give toys to kids who might otherwise have a lean Christmas.
Mason is a Sierra Conservation Center correctional officer. His girlfriend works for the Tuolumne County Sheriff's Department. Their friends are law enforcement officers who sometimes see a seamier side of life.
But for the last four years, on a Saturday before Christmas, dozens of Mason's friends and co-workers gather at his Jamestown area ranch and play "Capture the Flag" with paintball guns.
The entrance fee is an unwrapped toy and $40 for 1,000 paintballs.
Mason donates the toys to Mountain Women's Resource Center for mothers to give to their children. This year Mason and his father, Al, are also donating nine brand new bicycles.
"This way it is the mothers who are giving the presents to the kids as it would be if circumstances were different," Mason said. "I chose Mountain Women's Resource Center because I see the other half of what crimes do all day long."
Liz Sewell, MWRC director, said the toys Mason donates are much appreciated, and those that are not given out at Christmas are saved for mothers who stay at the center's two shelters to to give at birthdays throughout the year.
Mason, who used to run Paintball Express at his ranch, provides all the gear paintball guns, protective headwear and the battlefield, which is a football-field-sized, roped off area on his 8-acre property, complete with homemade tire-and-haybale covers to hide behind.
The covers show the effects of being hit by a rainbow of paintball colors.
Two teams of seven to eight players try to capture a flag planted in the middle of the field and get it back to the team's own safe zone without being hit by a paint pellet. Once hit, the player has to leave the field.
During the Paintball Fun Day, Mason said, he will go through about 70,000 paintballs.