After spending the evening clearing nearly two feet of snow from the Walmart garden center, volunteers from the Elizabeth Fire Department and their families were back at work just after sunrise on Dec. 16. Bundled up against single-digit …
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After spending the evening clearing nearly two feet of snow from the Walmart garden center, volunteers from the Elizabeth Fire Department and their families were back at work just after sunrise on Dec. 16. Bundled up against single-digit temperatures, they unloaded bicycles and unpacked bags filled with donated toys for the Elizabeth Firefighters Community Foundation's Christmas for Kids Program.
“We have partnered with Walmart, and we take over the garden center,” said Fire Marshal Kara Gerczynski, “and the parents are allowed to get two or three toys per child.”
What began in the mid-1990s with a couple of firefighters buying presents for the children of a few Elizabeth families has grown into an annual tradition. This year, the Christmas for Kids program is anticipating putting toys under the trees of around 150 children in 40 Elbert County families.
“It is what started our foundation, which is really what runs it,” Gerczynski said.
Originally, firefighters shopped for each child individually, sorted the toys and delivered them; but with the growing popularity of the program, that became impractical, so off-duty firefighters staffed the garden center at Walmart from 8 a.m. through 7 p.m. on Dec. 16, keeping the distributions open late so that parents working days were able to pick up gifts.
“When it got to be over 100 kids, it was really tough to do at the station, so we changed our system,” Gerczynski said.
Over the years, the Christmas for Kids program has grown beyond simply filling stockings and putting toys under the tree. The initiative has evolved into a partnership among the Elizabeth Firefighters Community Foundation, the EC Riders Motorcycle Club, and the American Legion in Elizabeth to provide food and clothes for the families.
Since the middle of October, the American Legion Post 82 has been collecting food to fill three-box packages capable of feeding a family for several days. Additionally, each qualifying family received a frozen turkey on Dec. 16 along with everything they needed to prepare a full Christmas dinner.
In addition, cash donations to the foundation help ease the burden on families for clothes.
“They come inside, and depending on how many kids in our budget, they usually get somewhere between $25 and $35 to spend on clothing for the kids,” Gerczynski said. “That's where the monetary donations at the Chili Dinner help us.”
In addition, Gerczynski praised the help the program receives from the EC Riders Motorcycle Club.
“The boxes up at Walmart, EC Riders puts those up there and orchestrates all that. We just go up and pick up the toys, so without them we would be lacking toys,” she said.
Families signed up for the programs at the Elizabeth Fire Department through Dec. 11, but it was hardly an absolute deadline.
“We keep some spares here in case we have some stragglers come in,” Gerczynski said. “Usually the people who come in this week are the ones who are very reluctant and realize, `I'm going to be in trouble this year,' so we hate to turn those people away.”
The program has some repeat customers, but Gerczynski said that they have new people who need help each year.
“Even though we do have some regulars, the newer people who come in who really need the help make it all worthwhile. This is not a program that is supposed to sustain them through their Christmas every year.”
The Elizabeth Firefighters Community Foundation relies solely on donations, and no taxpayer money is used to fund its programs.
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