Danville Fire Department is teaming up with the police department for its annual toy drive in what looks to be another Christmas with a larger number of families in need.
Interim Fire Chief Woody Ball said the Fraternal Order of Police has agreed to merge the funding for its Shop with a Cop program with the fire department’s effort. Ball said the $10,000 influx in funding will come in handy because 273 people already are signed up for assistance.
“They had a good thing going and so did we, but we just felt like if we combined them, we could have an excellent program that would help the largest number of people possible,” Ball said.
There were 346 people signed up last year, and another 100 are expected to sign up this year during the second wave of registrations planned for early December.
Ball said the account started at $6,700 — the department tries to keep $5,000 in the bank as a carry forward — and there have been $6,500 in donations so far. The fundraising goal for this year is $28,000.
The department likes to spend at least $70 on every child and tries to accommodate most requests that fit within that budget.
To supplement the shopping trips, now mostly to Walmart, the program also accepts new toys. In addition to safety concerns about used toys and the difficulty of making repairs, Ball said there’s another reason the department prefers new items.
“We try to remind people that isn’t a child’s fault that Mom or Dad is having a tough time,” Ball said. “Our idea is that every kid in the program comes down on Christmas morning and sees a pile of presents just like other kids their age.”
Ball said enrollment in the program has been a microcosm of economic problems the country has experienced over the last three years.
As in previous years, organizers are seeing an increasing number of new faces who have never asked for any kind of assistance before.
“One gentleman came in during sign-ups who had been out of work and just run out of unemployment benefits,” Ball said. “It was just all over his face that it was eating him up to be here, but he swallowed his pride and put his kids first.”
The program has had its ups and downs since it began during the 1970s, but Ball said the department started to see a budget crunch and increased enrollment in 2007 and has only been able to stay afloat recently because of large last-minute donations.
“There has always been someone to come in and save the day,” Ball said. “This year, the police department’s contribution will help get us around where we need to be, but we can’t always expect that to happen.”
What can be expected, Ball said, is that local residents will respond. Noting that other programs, such as the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree, also receive thousands in contributions, Ball said Danville is remarkable in its generosity.
“Santa Claus is really the community here every year for a whole lot of people,” Ball said.