WEST WARWICK — A donation by the West Warwick Fire Department will go a long way in ensuring the holidays are bright for more than 400 local families in need.
With a fire truck as their backdrop, members of the fire department on Wednesday morning handed over a $13,500 check, made out to the town’s Christmas Is program.
“I have great respect for the firefighters, for what they do on a day-to-day basis,” Manny Murray, director of the West Warwick Senior and Community Center, said just after receiving the check on the program’s behalf. “This is a real nice shot in the arm for us.”
All the funds donated Wednesday were raised during the department’s “Fill the Boot” drive last weekend. On Friday and Saturday, firefighters planted themselves at two local street corners, boots in hand, and collected donations from generous passersby.
The fire department has held its boot drive annually for some 40 years, with proceeds from the drive going each year to Christmas Is, Cpt. Chris Seelenbrandt of the West Warwick Fire Department said.
“We’re a community-based organization,” Seelenbrandt said over the gentle hum of the fire truck’s engine. “This is just tradition — it’s what we do. We give back to the community.”
Founded in 1979 to help out local families in need during the holidays, Christmas Is has continued to honor that mission for four decades by providing Christmas gifts to West Warwick families each December.
On Dec. 21, the organization will welcome the adults of 411 West Warwick families into the Senior and Community Center. There, they’ll each get the opportunity to “shop” for five or six toys for each of their children. The families will also walk out with plenty of food, including turkeys, to enjoy during the holiday.
The funds donated by the fire department will go directly to purchasing new toys, Murray said, adding that Christmas Is spends between $25,000 and $30,000 each year on toys.
The West Warwick Fire Department is “by far” the biggest contributor to the organization, Murray added. Since 1999, Seelenbrandt estimated that the department has raised at least $200,000 toward the cause.
The West Warwick Public Schools are also a major contributor, with students and teachers each year holding food and toy drives to benefit the organization. Ron Wallace, of Coventry, also recently held a party at Club Frontenac, asking that guests bring toys for Christmas Is, Murray noted.
Bags and bags of donated food line the hallways in the Senior and Community Center; thousands of toys fill its basement and a separate room upstairs.
Two weeks ago, students from the high school honor society helped carry six pallets of toys downstairs, where they’re being stored until a few days before distribution — students will return to help move all the toys from the basement to the dining room.
“I was so impressed with the way those kids worked,” said Rep. Jim Jackson, who also pitched in to unload the toys from the truck. “It’s heartwarming to see young kids getting involved.”
As for the donation by the firefighters, Jackson praised the department for recognizing the needs of residents and for making efforts to give back.
“They risk their lives every day, and at the same time they give back to the people that are less fortunate than they are,” Jackson said. “This is a great thing that the firefighters are doing — it shows that they’re an integral part of this community.”
And it’s thanks, too, to the generosity of the community members who donate year after year during the boot drive that the fire department is able to make such donations.
“It’s putting food on the table and toys under the tree for a family in need,” Seelenbrandt said. “That’s what it’s all about.”