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Toy drive needs help from the community

November 29, 2005|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

MONT ALTO, PA.

bonnieb@herald-mail.com

By the end of November, the recreation room at the Mont Alto Fire Department is usually full of toys on tables, under tables and stacked in corners.

Santa and his helpers deliver the toys, along with food boxes, to needy families a couple weeks before Christmas.

So far this year, only about one-quarter of the needed toys and food have come in, according to Charlie Baker, president of the Mont Alto Fire Department and Ambulance Squad. Volunteers have not set up as many tables for sorting toys as usual, and those are not full.

Last year, the department and squad gave toys and food to 103 families with children, in addition to donating food to many shut-ins and elderly.

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Baker, 54, a police officer retired on disability, said more families are asking for assistance this year.

"We have several Katrina evacuee families. They're starting from scratch."

Twenty turkeys and a small pile of food have come in so far.

"We try to give enough food for several meals," Baker said.

To prepare for Santa's deliveries, department volunteers make up cards with the age and gender of recipients, and the junior members go into the recreation room and pick out presents for each child. Normally, each child receives three or four gifts, Baker said. Personalized tags are affixed to each gift so that Santa can give out the gifts by name.

"That makes a big difference to the kids," Baker added.

Senior citizens who attend the senior center in the fire hall's large meeting room bake cookies to put in the food boxes.

Families who wish to receive toys and food call Baker, "and we make arrangements," he said. "People don't take (unfair) advantage of it."

Organizers deal individually with each family.

"Some are down on their luck and things are different for them the next year," Baker said.

One former recipient is bringing in toys this year to help other families.

One year, a family had a house fire the day before Christmas, and "we did more for them," Baker said.

Delivery day is scheduled for Dec. 11.

"We try to do it all in one day," Baker added. "We take all the equipment while another ambulance company stands in for us. We go in groups, and it takes about 11 hours."

They cover a 45-square mile area, he said, and Santa Claus rides a firetruck on each route.

Baker searches for words to describe the feeling of making a child's Christmas happy.

"When you pull up in the firetrucks ... the happiness, the thank yous you get. A hug and a thank you means a lot to make you feel you're fortunate to have what you have."

The joy affects even the youngest of the donors, he said.

"One of our members' children, a 6- or 7-year-old boy, told his parents to scrap his Christmas list and give the toys to these kids," Baker said.

The toy and food drive was started seven or eight years ago, Baker said.

"The first year we did this, I couldn't get off work. I went the second year and made up my mind I'd never miss another one."




How to help



The Mont Alto (Pa.) Fire Department's annual toy and food drive to help area families during the holidays needs a boost from the community. There are ways to help:

Items - Turkeys, nonperishable foods and new or good used toys may be dropped off at the fire department or ambulance squad buildings, on Pa. 997 in Mont Alto.

Money - Monetary donations may be mailed to Mont Alto Fire Department, P.O. Box 310, Mont Alto, PA 17237 Attention: Toy Drive.

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