A few toy cars, a couple of dolls, games, balls — even a bicycle — filled an old fire truck outside a Mesa store.
The toys were donated from shoppers at the Mesa Kmart and being collected by members of the East Valley Firefighters Charities to donate to more than 200 families during the upcoming holidays.
As shoppers came out of Kmart, they placed a toy or two into the back of the historic, 1941 fire truck.
"I just do it because I want to. I give a bike every year to somebody," said one woman, who wanted to keep her donation anonymous. She saw the crew outside Kmart and decided to make her donation Friday to the firefighters.
Mesa Fire and Medical Department Deputy Chief Cori Hayes said the nonprofit charity group is made up of fire crews from Mesa, Gilbert, Apache Junction, Florence and the Salt River/Fort McDowell. It’s the 15th year the group has gathered toys outside the Mesa Kmart at 1445 S. Power Road. The firefighting group has been helping families in need about 25 years, she said.
They hope to collect between 500 and 600 toys to help families in need this year, she said.
The Mesa fire department adopted 30 families from Mesa’s Whittier Elementary School. The department, along with the Gilbert Fire Department, works with the district to identify a different school in need each year.
"Crews pitch in and buy socks, underwear, jackets, anything on mom’s need list. They’ll supplement it with the toys, a gift card for mom and dad and a meal card to buy Christmas dinner," Hayes said.
Some of the families that will be helped are identified by firefighters when they go out on a call. Sometimes the families have lost everything in a fire. Sometimes the firefighters recognized a need.
"We’ll get 10 families just from calls," she said.
That’s how it started, Hayes said, with firefighters buying basic items, such as diapers and portable cribs, for families after disaster strikes.
Throughout the year, the different crews also support nonprofit groups, such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of the East Valley, the Child Crisis Center or Sunshine Acres, Hayes said.
"This is still the charity everyone of our crews loves," she said, noting the dozens of fire fighters greeting donors outside the store Friday.
On Saturday, Dec. 15, the group will be collecting toys outside Mesa Fire and Medical Department Station 217 at Baseline and Signal Butte.
Different crews will deliver the toys to families before Christmas, she said.
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