Messenger photo by Linda Dillman
Jefferson Township fire fighters—along with businesses, organizations and individuals throughout the fire department’s service area—work together to provide gifts for needy children. Pictured sorting toys at the fire station are: (from left) collection co-chairs Vickie Hockenbery and Firefighter Rick Cook, Firefighter Mallory Murry, firefighter and Mayor-elect Scott Hockenbery, and volunteer Susan Gray.
Nine years ago, Jefferson Township Firefighter Rick Cook decided the fire department needed to make the holidays brighter for children in their service area.
Nine years later, Cook is still amazed by the initial response to an impromptu toy drive and the support fire fighters continue to receive during their annual collection of new toys and financial donations for needy children.
"We’ve collected thousands of toys over the years," said Cook. "I was really shocked how well it went the first year and how well it’s done ever since. I started the toy drive because we didn’t do a lot in the community besides EMS and fire runs. I sent out letters to businesses and organizations and the support blew me away.
"There are some organizations that have been with us since the beginning," he continued. "The VFW has always been there, all of the gas stations, and Flyer’s Pizza. All of the churches in West Jeff have donated and the Peavey Company is a big supporter. One year, the Zion Lutheran Church had a bicycle drive and donated 35 new bicycles. Another church donated between 75 and 100 new toys."
The drive is not limited to stuffed animals, dolls, games and other toys etched onto the wish lists of children. Cook said he once learned of a family of eight who did not have a television, much less the means to provide a merry holiday. He rallied support from a Circuit City store to donate a television, and he purchased a game system at a greatly reduced price to surprise the family on Christmas morning.
"Sometimes we deviate from the toy end of the drive," admitted Cook.
Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7005 Commander Ray Glock said the post donates a lot of money, but most of it stays in the local community.
"We like to see it go to causes here," Glock said. "Over the years, we’ve donated more than $7,000 to the fire fighter’s toy drive. I like giving the money away."
Post Quartermaster Don Coonfare added, "It tickles me to death we can afford to do this."
Firefighter Mallory Murry started working with the drive five years ago and continues to help collect toys and shop for presents the week before Christmas. She said organizers find out what children want and then set a time and date to do a mass shopping expedition.
"I like helping people and shopping for the children," Murry said. "The families then come to the station and we distribute the toys in black trash bags so the kids won’t know what is inside. We even give parents the paper to wrap the gifts."
Drive co-chairman Vickie Hockenbery said it is important to help families that are needy, especially at this time of the year, and is a subject close to the heart of the fire department.
Applications for families with children up to age 12 who want to participate in the program will be accepted from Nov. 19 to Dec. 15. Donations of toys and monetary contributions are accepted anytime and can be dropped off at the station or by mail to 745 W. Main St., West Jefferson, Ohio 43162.
"Usually, we get a good response from people donating toys," Hockenbery said. "On Nov. 21, Mike’s Pizza, 50 N. Town in West Jeff, is donating a portion of their sales to the toy drive from 5 to 10 p.m. If anybody needs more information, they can call Rick at the firehouse, 614-879-8265 or me at 879-8101."