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VRFA Firefighters Help Make Christmas Merry for Area Youth

Usually, the Toys for Kids event is bustling with parents and loving family members finding the perfect gifts for their kids. The Valley Professional Firefighters knew this year would be different; it would just be a matter of how different. The one sure thing was the unrelenting drive to not let those in need down. Toys for Kids 2020 would happen, and it did.

Event co-organizer Cory Wallace said it was the unknown that impacted the planning most. “We had some major hurdles to get through, but we needed to find a way. Fellow firefighter John Stivers and Deputy Fire Marshall John Monsebroten consistently knocked down barriers to get this done.”

From the logistics of maintaining a COVID-19 safe event to fundraising with limited means, the IAFF 1352 members worked in overdrive to ensure those in need would have something to unwrap on Christmas.
“Everyone came together and worked to solve the puzzle of how to get toys to the families,” Wallace said.

Funding the Event

Firefighters couldn’t fundraise like years past, putting a considerable dent in the event’s funding. A virtual fundraiser was posted and shared, repeatedly (sorry, not sorry), receiving considerable support from the community.

“Fred Meyer allowed us to hand out flyers and place posters throughout the store to get the word out,” Wallace said. “Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority has a similar event. They sometimes need to buy Toys from Fred Meyer in Auburn. This year PSRFA donated a large amount from their Firefighter Foundation to our cause. Big shout out to them!”

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Firefighters load toys into cars during the Toys for Kids event | for the Auburn Examiner

Hops n’ Drops Lake Tapps was one of several local businesses to contribute to the event. The company’s Warm Wishes program allows each restaurant to give back within their communities by selecting where they would like the donations to go. “We have supported the Toys for Kids Event for three years now,” shared restaurant General Manager Angy Cowan.

“In previous years, we did a Bikes for Tykes collection through the holidays, and we donated our bikes to the [Valley Regional Fire Authority] for the toy drive,” continued Cowan. “This year, we felt that providing warm wishes (blankets, coats, socks, gloves, etc.) would be better for our communities with so many families in need. We donated 125 blankets to the toy drive.”

No Room at the Inn

With nearly 300 households and over 750 children to provide for, the event needed a location big enough to handle the traffic.

“We had two original locations in mind. One fell through with about two weeks to go,” shared Wallace. “John Monsebroten then suggested Emerald Downs because of its large parking lot. We then met with the Site Managers at Emerald Downs, and to their credit, they had an idea for a location inside the stable area. After talking with them and amongst ourselves, the plan came together.”

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Cory Wallace and Santa! | photo from Cory Wallace

With a site secured and funds raised, all that was left to do was buy toys. “Once again, April (Fred Meyer Auburn Store General Manager) and Andrew (Home Manager) were great,” Wallace said. “Andrew had been working on getting additional toys into the store in October/November. They allowed us to take over a register, and they scanned all the toys and even had to ten-key half of all the items when the computers went down.”

Hops n’ Drops did more than donate. Several team members, including Cowan, volunteered their time as well. “Shopping for the toys was such a fun event! I was able to bring a team member with me, and it was a great experience,” Cowan said. “We were given a specific age to shop for and went and filled our carts. Thinking about the kids that would be receiving them is what made it so great.”

Chances are relatively good that the Toys for Kids shoppers cemented their spot on the ‘Nice List,’ as Santa was in Fred Meyer while they were purchasing toys. “Santa was walking through Fred Meyer the day we bought all the toys, and I was pretty much speechless,” Wallace said.

Toys for Kids, 2020 Style

Unlike most drive-up events, the Toys for Kids event could not prepackage items for families. A fulfillment system was used to ensure the safety of those being served, firefighters, and event volunteers.

Only firefighters in full PPE would interact with those in vehicles. They obtained information for the children and provided it to runners to gather. Volunteers used the provided information to fill bags with toys, blankets, and books. Once fulfilled, the firefighter would load the items into the vehicle.

For the second year in a row, Raymond Handling Concepts donated an array of bicycles. This meant any family that indicated they wanted on and could fit in their vehicle would receive a new bicycle and helmet. The event has received “unbelievable support from [Raymond Handling Concepts]. It’s very appreciated,” Wallace said.

Cowan and five Hops n’ Drops team members were at the Toys for Kids event as elves, filling bags to the brim with toys. “We will definitely be supporting this event in years to come,” assured Cowan. “We as a company do quite a bit through the year to support our communities, but this is by far the most fulfilling for me. Knowing we are helping families with a special Christmas morning their children may not have gotten otherwise brings so much excitement.”

A Few More Smiles This Christmas

Knowing a month ago there was a potential the Toys for Kids event may not happen, Wallace shared he was relieved when it was over. “It’s a great tradition that has been going on much longer than I have been here. It felt great to have it continue. This is truly a community giving help right back to the community. It’s a privilege to be a part of that. These kids hopefully had a few more smiles this Christmas because of the people and businesses in Auburn, Algona, and Pacific.”

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Firefighters load toys into cars during the Toys for Kids event | for the Auburn Examiner

“The Valley Regional Fire Authority – Professional Firefighters are dedicated to their community,” continued Wallace. “The community consistently supports us, and we strive to do the same. It’s one of the great perks of being in the fire service. We usually have several events with the public that enable us to support various community organizations. We were unable to do that this year, but the support of the community allowed us to get toys to the kids, and for that, we are grateful!”

The following businesses helped support this event
Please consider supporting them with your patronage

Hops n’ Drops Auburn

Auburn School District

Athens Pizza and Pasta

Orion Industries

Haggen Food & Pharmacy – Lake Tapps

Scholastic Books

Raymond Handling Concepts

1-800-GOT-JUNK of Auburn

CK Worldwide

Safeway

Subway

Auburn Girl Scouts

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