Written by Jill Peeler, San Francisco Firefighters Toy Program.
A spark that lit a huge fire in the hearts of Local 798 SF Firefighters over 50 years continues to blaze.
Over 50 years ago, the San Francisco Firefighters Toy Program started when a few local firefighters wanted to help some families that lost their homes and all of their possessions when a fire destroyed everything that they owned. These firefighters were inspired to help – so they decided to fix up a few bikes and delivered them on Christmas Eve to the homes of the children. This is when the SF Firefighters Toy Program was born.
Since that day the Toy Program continues to grow and serve hundreds of thousands of Bay Area children and families who are in need. Not every child has the same starting point in life. Some children are blessed to grow up in a two-parent family home and a safe neighborhood where there are no outside gang or drug influences. It is a given to some children that there will be food on their plate every day, they will go shopping for new school clothes and they will never question being taken care of. While we wish that all of our children could experience this type of safe and secure upbringing, the reality is different for thousands of our local kids.
Every single day in communities throughout the Bay Area, countless children wake up alone because their parent (grandparent or guardian) is gone to work. They are left to fend for themselves and many don’t eat breakfast or have a fancy new outfit to wear to school that day. Some have to walk through neighborhoods that are gang infested where drugs are being sold and violence surrounds them. They aren’t given adequate school supplies and simply can’t afford basic things that many of us take for granted – like a backpack to carry their books. Life is not the same for them, yet society is quick to cast judgement when they are off running in the streets and getting in trouble.
The reality is kids need people who care about them. They need mentors and role models who are willing to step up to the plate and guide them, pass their knowledge along to them, and give them the encouragement that they need to succeed in life. Imagine a world where every child is given the tools to succeed, the encouragement to make their dreams a reality and a place where they feel like they too matter.
San Francisco Firefighters understand the struggles of our local children. Countless numbers of SFFD firefighters and their families have joined with other volunteers to give their time, money, and love in order to be a part of these children’s lives for over fifty years. Local 798 Firefighters care about these kids and want to make a difference in any way possible. In fact, many of our current SFFD firefighters grew up in the Bay Area and actually participated in the Firefighter Toy Program as a child – receiving something as small as a new toy or a backpack that brightened their day and showed them that there are others in our community who cared about them. Now, these same young men and women have become members of the finest fire department in the country and they remember how important it is to give back to those who are in need.
The recent Clayton Fire in Lake County just north of San Francisco has burned down several homes and created chaos in so many children’s lives. Imagine one day coming home to see that everything you owned is now completely gone, including that special teddy bear you had since you were a baby. The devastation that this type of loss has on our children is incredible.
With the new school year starting right now for these kids, many of them have no clothing, no supplies, and no roof over the heads. This is where the San Francisco Firefighters Toy Program comes in to do what we can to help.
That spark that was lit so many years ago with a couple of firefighters fixing up and donating a couple of bicycles for local kids is still alive and well today. In fact, it’s stronger than ever before.
On very short notice, San Francisco firefighters began immediately collecting money to buy these kids backpacks and essential school supplies. The response from our local communities and supporters was tremendous as nearly $5,000 was raised in three days. They worked all day and night, going to stores and buying hundreds of backpacks and school supplies for the kids who lost everything.
Early in morning, several firefighters met Sally Casazza – the Chair of the SF Firefighters Toy Program, and they worked for hours to load up these new backpacks and headed to four schools where countless numbers of children had no school supplies. The schools that were hit hard were Lower Lake Elementary and Lower Lake High School. Seeing a story on TV or reading about a devastating story can affect a person for a few seconds, but living, seeing and hearing the children’s voices that have nothing can impact a person for a lifetime. The hearts of SF Firefighters are amazing; they are givers and they are the ones that have made a lifetime decision to do everything in their power to ensure that our local kids are given an equal opportunity in life to succeed. Whether it’s toys, a smile, a hug, a backpack, or a doll - our firefighters are there to give back.
Our firefighters know what it’s like to experience devastation and loss. That’s why the San Francisco Firefighters Toy Program collects and gives toys away to tens of thousands of kids every year. But we are much more than just a Toy Program. Our firefighters serve as mentors, friends, and sometimes as surrogate father and mother figures in the lives on needy children.
The devastation from the Clayton Fire touched so many lives that our Toy Program volunteers and firefighters will continue to make the trip to Lake County in the days to come to assist local families in every way possible.
The San Francisco Firefighters Toy Program would like to thank all of our donors, volunteers and firefighters. You are making a difference in the lives of needy children and families each and every day. The San Francisco Bay Area LOVES OUR FIREFIGHTERS AND EVERYONE THAT CONTINUES TO MAKE THE TOY PROGRAM SUCH A TREMENDOUS SUCCESS.
If you would like to make a financial contribution to support our efforts, please visit www.sffirefighterstoys.org to make a donation online. If you would like to volunteer or have a toy collection barrel at your place of work, you can order online or call the Toy Program at 415-777-0440. We are always accepting new volunteers and would love to hear from you!