Volunteers proud to be part of toy drive

December 16, 2002|by STACEY DANZUSO

MONT ALTO, Pa. - Five hours and several rolls of wrapping paper later, members of the Mont Alto Volunteer Fire Co. had dozens of Christmas presents ready for 18 families in need in their community one night last week.

While that might have been enough when the department began its toy and food drive six years ago, volunteers said they are desperate for more donations to meet this year's need.

More than 70 families with a total of 200 children have asked for the department's help in making this year's holiday memorable, said Drue Jones, assistant fire chief.


Rising unemployment is keeping many residents from affording extras, like a Christmas dinner and toys for the children, said Brenda Myers, a fire department volunteer and trustee of the Mont Alto Ambulance Squad.

"We got lucky, and we had 50 cases of food donated. We have a good selection of food, but toys are a killer for us," Jones said.

It took volunteers more than eight hours last year to deliver toys and turkey dinners to 54 families. Jones expects it will take 10 hours this year to hand deliver the presents on two routes, with Santa and Mrs. Claus leading each entourage in a fire engine.

Volunteers will leave from the department at 10 a.m. Sunday with two fire engines and four moving vans.

"It's quite a lengthy day, but it's incredibly special," Jones said. "We try to keep it so the first thing the children see is Santa stepping out of the fire truck."

Every gift is personalized with the child's name on a tag that says "From Santa." Depending on the gift, each child receives two or more, Myers said.

Planning began in August with volunteers contacting businesses to donate money or supplies. Those requests yielded the food donation from Save-A-Lot, said Holly Baker, a fire department volunteer and ambulance squad trustee.

But they still need 40 more turkeys and other items to round out the food baskets, which are also going to the elderly and people on fixed incomes for the first time this year, Jones said.

Members of the fire company also spent several hours shopping on Sunday, trying to stretch a $1,000 donation from Penn Woods Amusements of Gettysburg, Pa., which provides the rides at the annual fire department carnival.

Each year, Quincy Village and the Penn National Homeowner's Association also support the endeavor with cash and gifts, Jones said.

"If not for them we would not be here. But this year we desperately need more," he said.

Charlie Baker, fire company president, is proud of his department.

"They do a fantastic job," he said. "They're Santa's helpers."

A transfer unit from a neighboring fire department will staff the station until the company returns.

"We spend 20 to 30 minutes at a stop depending on the situation. We don't rush," he said.

Fire company members said they find the toy drive as rewarding as the recipients do.

"I heard everyone say how much fun delivering and wrapping the presents is, and seeing the smiles on kids' faces," Myers said. "I thought, since I don't have kids, I would go help. It's just a wonderful feeling for me."

Jones said one of the most memorable moments occurred the first year. After delivering gifts to the 18 families on their list, there were a few toys left over. The volunteers pulled the fire truck into a low-income neighborhood, turned the lights on and waited for the children to come out.

"One little boy ran out with only his pants on, and all he wanted was a toy from Santa. That I will never forget," Jones said.

The Mont Alto Fire Volunteer Fire Co. is accepting toys, food and monetary donations at its station, 617 S. Main St., Mont Alto. The station faces Anthony Highway. Donations can also be dropped off at the Mont Alto Ambulance Squad, 6100 Anthony Highway.

Officials are hoping to receive all donations by Thursday.

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