Firefighters are Santa for many local children

November 14, 2003|GARY MOYERS

The legends say Christmas brings a giving man in a red suit to provide toys for children.

For many of those children in Boyle County, Santa comes every December in the guise of a firefighter.

Members of the Danville Fire Department, with help from a few friends, took on the task more than two decades ago of making sure Santa visits children who otherwise might not have gifts to open on Christmas Day. Chief Mike Thomas said it's a labor of love.

"I've been with the department for 21 years, and we've been doing it at least that long," he said. "Chief Russell Phillips started the Danville Fire Department Christmas Toy Drive all those years ago to make sure kids in this county had a Christmas, and we've been doing it ever since.

"Every child deserves something on Christmas, no matter the circumstances," Thomas said. "That's our goal. We might not get to every child, but that's what we try to do."


The D.F.D. has 25 full time members and 27 volunteers, Thomas said, and the entire group participates in the toy drive.

"Our department really gets excited every year about this," he said.

"We spend all year doing the things firefighters do, like training, testing, keeping the equipment ready, making the fire runs, but when November rolls around we all get fired up over the toy program.

"Everybody falls right in with the wrapping, the sorting, matching the gifts to the kids - it's a great change of pace for us."

Others departments help

Thomas said the program gets help from other departments, including the Boyle County Fire Department, local law enforcement agencies and the EMS squads. "It's a joint project in many ways," he said. "We get a lot of help each year from corporate sponsors, and also help from the community in general.

"It never ceases to amaze me how many people want to do something to help every year, some of them with gifts, some with money, and many of them anonymously," he said.

"We've had a lot of people who call in wanting to sponsor a family, and they take care of filling the list. People in this county have been great partners for us in this."

Toys and money, of course, are the primary donations to the program, but Thomas said help comes in many ways.

"People donate gift wrapping, tape, boxes, postage stamps for our mailings; there are a ton of ways for people to contribute who might not otherwise be able to help with money or toys. Every one of those donations is crucial to the success of this drive."

The Toy Drive provides gifts for infants up to 15 years old, Thomas said, and each age group presents a different challenge.

"Toys and clothing for infants are pretty simple, but the older the child, the more complicated the gift tends to get," he said.

In the "old days," Thomas said, firefighters took donations of used toys in need of repairs, fixed them and gave them out as gifts.

"Most of the toys are way too complicated for us to be able to do that now," he said. "We try to get as many new toys as possible. We still take some used toys, but only if we can repair them."

The D.F.D. is now taking applications from Boyle County families who want to be included this year, Thomas said.

"Each year we try to help 40 or 50 families provide gifts for their children who otherwise might not get anything on Christmas," he said. "We'll begin the screening process. We try to identify families that really need the help, then we identify families that are already getting Christmas help from other agencies or churches. Once we narrow down our list to the ones we can help, we start trying to match gifts with age groups."

The firefighters already have some donations, but the big push is now under way.

Thomas said anyone wishing to donate may call (859) 238-1211 and ask for him or the fire officer in charge, or they may drop off their donation at the Southend Fire Station on Hustonville Road.

Checks should be made payable to the Danville Fire Department Christmas Toy Drive. Every donation goes to a child in Boyle County, Thomas said, and no gift or donation is too small.

"If you get enough little drops of water, you eventually have a rain storm," he said.

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