Waking up on Christmas morning to gifts, surprises and cheer is often a magical experience for children.
But children living near or below the poverty line can often be left out in the cold.
The annual Firefighters Toys for Tots campaign will give more than 3,000 children across the city a reason to smile next week on Christmas morning after announcing they had raised $158,750 during their 37-day drive.
“Christmas, for children especially, is the most special time of the year. I think it’s really influential in their childhood growing up receiving that gift and looking forward to a gift. I know that’s how it was for me,” said chairman and firefighter Paul Penna at the campaign’s wrap-up at Intercity Shopping Centre on Friday.
The goal for the campaign was to at least match the previous year’s total of $153,000 but they were able to surpass that number.
Off-duty firefighters had been manning a booth at the Intercity Shopping Centre food court since the launch of the campaign on Nov. 13 and had other fundraisers such as servers’ nights at Boston Pizza and On Deck.
Spending time at the booth and interacting with people who had been impacted by the campaign was one of the most worthwhile aspects of the initiative.
“People come up to me and tell me they were affected by what we did 20 years ago, I know that’s happening now and maybe 20 years from now the children will be coming up and saying thank you, it means a lot,” Penna said.
“That’s where you really notice that we are making a difference.”
The continued success of the campaign, which has been running for more than seven decades, can be traced to the eagerness and the participation of the firefighters.
Getting involved in the fundraising initiatives is something even the newest members of the department jump right into.
“We’ve had young firefighters who aren’t even on the trucks yet going through training volunteering their time,” Penna said. “Some of them spoke to me about how neat it was having people coming up and talking to them.”
Penna said he was overwhelmed by the support and the generosity of the community, and that a significant portion of the financial total is from independent organizations conducting their own fundraising.
Tim Horton’s donated $39,000 from their Smile Cookie proceeds at the launch of the campaign, along with schools holding fundraising events and some businesses held employee donations in lieu of holiday gift activities.
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