What began as a relief effort in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2006 became a labor of love for a group of New York City firefighters, reports gulflive.com.
For the past eight years, the firefighters have been traveling to the coast to bring relief to local residents in need. In the beginning it was plywood, sheetrock and other supplies needed in the rebuilding effort, but for the past few years the firefighters have been bringing toys — and lots of smiles — to local children.
The 26 firefighters — many of them veterans of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York — arrived on the coast Thursday and Saturday held toy drives at the Jackson County Civic Action building in Moss Point and another in Biloxi. Looking at the faces of the children and the firefighters, it was difficult to tell who enjoyed it more.
“It’s become more than a toy drive,” said Jimmy Lanza of Ladder 43, Engine 53 in Spanish Harlem, N.Y. “There’s a real bond with these people.”
The firefighters solicit donations throughout the year to raise money to purchase the toys. They hold raffles, receive donations from other fire houses and the NYC fire unions. Jet Blue donated two plane tickets to the event founder, Tom O’Connor, to use to travel to the coast, but he instead raffled those off, as well.
Saturday, kids and their parents were lined up outside well before the 9 a.m. start time, with the line stretching the length of the Jackson County Civic Action and Human Services buildings.
By the time the toy drive ended, roughly 400 children had made their way through the building, selecting a toy and meeting with Santa Claus — portrayed by firefighter Kirk Lester, as he has done every year of the event.
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