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Fire department's toy drive a hit in Pa.

December 18, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

MONT ALTO, Pa. - He arrives a week early and without a reindeer in sight, but the children running to greet the Santa Claus who visits Franklin County's most modest homes every year insist he's real.

The best part about the Santa Claus who arrives annually on a firetruck a full week before Christmas?

"He brings gifts, and he likes you," Aaron Bumbaugh, 10, said, after waiting outside his South Mountain, Pa., home for a caravan of trucks and helpers from the Mont Alto Volunteer Fire Department Toy Drive.

Three routes visited 138 homes Sunday on a record-setting year for the toy drive, which started eight Christmases ago and now reaches parts of Adams County, Pa., and Maryland.

The group chowed down on eggs and bacon before the first stop. There, everyone involved gathered on the Mont Alto lawn of the Wenger family.

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Prayer Wenger, at 17 months old, nearly drowned in a backyard pool in July 2005 and suffered severe brain damage. The girl died last week.

Surprised by the volunteers' arrival, Prayer's mother, Lisa Wenger, emerged from the house with tears in her eyes and without shoes on her feet. She hugged the toy drive volunteers and thanked them.

She turned to one of the emergency responders who went to the original accident and quietly said, "I remember you."

The crew then separated into the three routes, where the firefighters and emergency medical technicians on the South Mountain-bound route soon reunited with a family who lost a father in a fatal vehicle accident recently.

At several of the group's stops, they found small children waiting in the front yard.

"They wait for sirens. They listen for the sirens," Cindy Rock of Mont Alto said, watching her five children and her sister's two children hug Santa.

The word repeatedly used by parents to express their children's emotions about the event was "excited."

"They're always so excited," said Aaron's mother, Tonya Bumbaugh. "They actually wait for them."

Santa and Mrs. Claus in many cases hopped off the firetruck and scrambled onto a smaller, utility truck to make their way back long, winding driveways.

"We always enjoy our trip," Santa said.

Most of the children on his route were on the nice list, he said.

"Most of them are so happy to see us," Santa said. "The little ones hug you and grab you, and it makes it all worthwhile."

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