By Linda Dillman
Firefighters 4 Kids has a special place in the heart of retired Madison Township Firefighter John Jones, who has led the local toy drive for more than three decades.
Jones appeared during the Oct. 24 Madison Township trustees’ meeting to make his annual pitch for family sign-ups Nov. 24-30 at Fire Station 183, 3228 Noe Bixby Road for residents in need in the Canal Winchester and Groveport Madison school districts.
According to Jones, 30 township families signed up last year to receive new toys in time for Christmas morning.
“I enjoy doing this,” Jones said, “I really do. I enjoy helping people out like the time an 11-year-old kid was going to get a skateboard because it was all we had left, but he was so excited to get it. That invigorated me.”
Jones said he became involved in the 1980s when a party for kids was sponsored by McDonalds and held by Columbus firefighters at station four on Winchester Pike. It was the kickoff event for Firefighters 4 Kids and he asked how he could get involved with the charity.
“The program was started in 1977 by Mike Mullins,” said Jones, who was a Columbus firefighter at the time, but lived in Groveport. “It started out as food baskets and refurbished toys, but it kept evolving and evolving to what it is today. This is our last year to use the old Westland Sears store as our warehouse.”
Once Jones was done with his presentation, Fire Chief Derek Robinson asked him to remain at the podium. Robinson surprised Jones by reading a proclamation recognizing the retired firefighter for his service to the community as a firefighter and toy program coordinator.
“John began his fire service career as a volunteer firefighter with Madison Township in 1982,” said Robinson. “He then served as a fill-time 911 dispatcher starting in 1985 and moved to full-time firefighter status in 1987.”
Jones finished his career as a fire inspector, totaling 29 years of public service to the residents and community of Madison Township.
“John currently serves as the Firefighter 4 Kids coordinator, a program providing toys for children and families in need during the holidays,” said Robinson. “John began volunteering with the organization in 1987 and continues to lead the program 36 years later.”
On Nov. 11, starting at a former Big Bear store on South Hamilton Road, a parade of motorcyclists will ride down Hamilton Road to Winchester Pike in support of Firefighters 4 Kids. NBC4 is also holding a toy collection on Dec. 9 that Jones said attracted nearly 700 cars last year.
Donations of new toys or financial contributions can be dropped off at local fire stations throughout the county starting the day after Thanksgiving. During the local November signups, the Madison Township Police are providing free gun locks.
Residents participating in the sign-ups for children ages 0-12 must show proof of need (SNAP or HEAP), photo identification, birth certificate for the child, and custody papers if applicable.
Sign-up dates and times are Nov. 24, 25, 26, and 27, from 9-11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. and on Nov. 28, 29 and 30 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.