Santa had a little help handing out toys this year.
The Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority (RFA) and Kent Food Bank presented their annual Toys for Joy program, culminating with a large donation distribution Dec. 19 at Kent Lutheran Church. This year, more than 5,000 toys were given away, according to Kyle Ohashi, captain and public information officer for the RFA.
The fire department has been doing the program for more than 20 years. It’s a joint effort between the Kent Fire Fighters Local 1747 and its foundation, a nonprofit effort that was created to support programs and people in the community.
Barrels set up at different fire stations throughout the area collected new and unwrapped toys for children, newborn to 13 years of age.
“Those toys are taken to one of our fire stations where they are collected and sorted into bins,” Ohashi said. “In this case, the PODS company, the one that provides those metal containers for people to store things in, provided us with the containers to store all of the unwrapped gifts in at this fire station.”
Once sorted, Ohashi said, the station hosted “wrapping parties,” inviting the public to come in and wrap all the donated toys. Two parties this season wrapped 4,000 of the 5,000 toys.
“We probably had 300 people between the two nights,” Ohashi said. “We had about 100 to 125 people the first night, and we had close to 200 people on Tuesday night (the next wrapping party)
“It’s a great opportunity for families,” he said. “There are some families that have been coming to the gift wrapping party for years. We’re seeing other generations of families … high school students looking for community service hours … and Scout groups and church groups that just want to give back to the community. It’s a great opportunity.”
The other 1,000 or so toys that were not wrapped, Ohashi said, were gifts being utilized in different ways to help the community. For example, toys were donated to the Holiday Engine program, which collected more than $21,700 and 32,000 pounds of food for families in the Maple Valley area this year.
Extra toys were donated to places like Appian Way Apartments, a low-income housing unit.
On Dec. 19, moving day, Reddaway Trucking provided a large semi-truck to load up the 4,000 wrapped toys and bring them to the church, where they were unloaded and organized into different age group categories. Volunteers helped organize and distribute the toys.
Ohashi said virtually all of the toys were taken, but the RFA is still receiving toy donations, with those taken to the food bank.
The Toys for Joy is a one way firefighters give back in a big way.
“By partnering with local businesses, like Reddaway Trucking and PODS, and just the general public, we can make this a better holiday for community members,” Ohashi said. “It’s so easy and it’s so beneficial. We have a lot of people in this community that have to decide. They have to make decisions based on how much money they have, how they’re going to spend their money, whether it’s going to be on food or medication or housing. Those are the kinds of decisions they’re making. They’re not making choices about what gifts to get their kids.
“So if we can help those families take that off their plate and say, ‘You don’t have to worry about the gifts, we’re going to help you with that.’ It’s easy for us to do and it greatly benefits them, and it brings us a lot satisfaction to know that we’re able to help community members,” Ohashi said. “That’s why we do the program.”