Toy Program
By Melissa Lerma
I’d like to introduce myself as the new chairperson for the San Francisco Fire Fighters Toy Program. I really never thought of being at the Toy Program without Johnny V but for John, the time came to pass the baton. I was entrusted to this position based on my experience of working at the Toy Program for over ten years now. My last few years at the Toy Program has been working side by side with John and this has given me the opportunity to see the day-to-day responsibilities that it takes to make this program work.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”…well, that will be the mantra for this year. Speaking with John and various volunteers that have been here for years, most things run pretty smoothly. I have been lucky enough to have commitments from a few volunteers to oversee specific areas of work. I appreciate the commitment of these volunteers to help invaluably toward a smooth transition. Others who have shown their support this year already: Louie, Bill, Mario, Leo, Art, Joyce, Matt, Jack, Ed, Ray, Jimmy…and although it’s not Christmas time, there is year round work to maintain our building and continuous donations to be handled.

During Christmas Season 2000, I took a couple of weeks at the Toys to step back, observe and fully grasp the big picture. I needed to re-acquaint myself with all the different facets that make the Toy Program work. A quick overview of daily work for those new to the Toy Program includes warehousing stock, sorting donations, stocking shelves, maintaining vehicles, donation pickups, barrel preparation, barrel delivery and pick-up, firehouse pick-ups, building maintenance - these tasks are the guts of the Toy Program just to get ready to hand out toys.

The next step is the work involved with distributing applications, scheduling the recipients to pick up their donations (we do over 300 families a day!), and handing out toys to these families. In addition to families we do try to help organizations that fall into certain criteria (battered women’s shelters, AIDS children, hospital wards), there are many that qualify and volunteers hand pick items that are specific for the needs of these special children.

Another avenue for the Toy Program to receive toy donations has been corporate parties and community events that have their attendees bring a donation to enhance the Christmas spirit of their holiday event. We arrange a time and location and have firefighters attend to accept these donations. This work is so important because of the quantities of toys they produce. Volunteers are instrumental and usually have a good time.

Another satisfying and effective means to bring Christmas cheer to children during the Toy Season has been Santa’s Workshop on Wheels. This traveling Santa has visited thousands of children and given them a visit and photo with Santa. This requires Santa and 3-4 firefighters per visit to help get the trailer there and set up to take photos.

If you would like to get involved, please contact me at the Toy Program, 777-0440. I’ll check the messages daily. I’ll be in the field at St. 15 (B-Watch) through September if you need to reach me. If you have special skills that can relate to the work we do, we can use your help. It would be great to get the bulk of the prep work done as early as possible so if you have some free time, let’s get going. Please keep in mind that just a few hours of your time can really be effective. I know that most people live out of town, but we can get so much done in the morning and still get you out of town before traffic. Come on down when you get off in the morning, we’ll do some work till noon and then a quick lunch. You can get out by 1:00!

Speaking of lunch, start thinking of some dates for your firehouse to come down to cook. When John came up with this idea a few years ago, it added so much to the Toy Program. An opportunity to visit and enjoy a hearty meal for well-deserved volunteers is just another way to thank everyone for helping out. We’ll start taking dates in September.

So you can see that the willingness and selflessness of all our volunteers to share their time is really what make this all happen. For the good of the Toy Program and the respect to all the work volunteers have put in over the years, I ask that everyone continue to support the program and will come down and lend a hand. Please help to continue a fine tradition that still reflects the compassion and volunteerism of the San Francisco Fire Department members, retired and active, and their families.


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