Fort Walton Beach Fire Department leading Christmas toy drive for needy local children
FORT WALTON BEACH — The holidays are fast approaching, and Santa is working around the clock making toys, checking lists and loading up his sleigh.
Luckily, local firefighters are always ready and willing to step in and lend a hand.
This month, the Fort Walton Beach Fire Department is partnering with the community and an array of local businesses to help make sure needy local children have gifts under their tree this Christmas.
The department will host two "Santa's Firehouse Cruz-Thru Toy Drives," in which people can drop off new, unwrapped toys. Additionally, numerous local businesses are acting as drop-off points for the fire department toy drive.
"My whole goal was to target the kids that are in our backyards ... that are growing up here in the city that need our help," said James R. Freudenberg, an Fire Department engineer and paramedic who is spearheading the toy drive. "I wanted to keep everything as local as possible, because it means a lot more when it's done that way."
Freudenberg visited with staff, principals and guidance counselors at local schools to identify children whose parents might be strapped for resources this holiday. Once the children were identified, Freudenberg worked with the school officials to get every child a wish list to fill out and return.
The goal is to ensure every kid gets something they want, like toys or games; something they need, such as coats, shoes or clothing; and something educational.
"We're always looking for new unwrapped toys for boys and girls ages zero to 16, because we don't just take the kid that's in a school, we take their siblings," Freudenberg said. "So if it's a kindergartner and he has, say, two brothers and a sister in the household, we also get a list for those family members. ... When I call and confirm an address, I always ask, 'Are there any other kids that will be at the house on Christmas?' I get the information and then I always brings toys for those kids as well, because I'm not going to show up with toys for some kids and not others."
Gathering enough gifts for everyone is a big undertaking that's only possible with help from the community.
The FWBFD invites everyone to load their vehicles with new unwrapped toys — as well as children's clothing, wrapping paper, tape, bows or anything to help a child in need — and bring them to Fort Walton Beach Fire Station 6 at 5 Hollywood Blvd. N.E. on Dec. 11 and 18 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The contactless drop-off system will allows people to pull up, pop their trunks and let firefighters unload the gifts.
Freudenberg said they expect to fill lists for 40 to 60 children. Some popular items this year include Nerf guns, Disney Princess merchandise and Baby Yoda toys.
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Along with the fire station drop-off point, many local businesses and other city offices are collecting toys on the department's behalf. Currently, the participating locations include:
U-Haul FWB, Sax Grille, Plus Skateshop, Downtown Music Hall, Helen Back Pizza, Fort Walton Beach Recreation Center, Fort Walton Beach Library, Fort Walton Beach Golf Course, 3 Dogs and a Chic, Emerald Coast Bait and Tackle and The Sound Cafe + Enlightened Studios.
Also, BOTE Fort Walton Beach, KCs Sandbar & Grille, Taste Tapas & Wine Bar, Buffalo's Reef, The Parson's Son BBQ, Okaloosa Donuts, Sunset Bowls,
Rive Café, Coffee Ave, Parlor Doughnuts, Emerald Coast Harley-Davidson, SERVPRO of Fort Walton Beach, Invictus Remediation, CrossFit Abundantly More and Starbucks locations on Beal Parkway and Mary Esther Boulevard.
The FWBFD also accepts cash donations at the fire station, which assists in purchasing wish list items that don't come in via donations.
Freudenberg says the toy drive means a lot, not just to the kids and their families, but to the firefighters who participate.
"They won't always admit it, but then when we go and deliver these toys on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day and you see these kids, there's quite a few firemen who cry, the guys who you wouldn't normally think about," Freudenberg said. "They see how much this touches the families. It means a lot."
Anyone who wants additional information or who would like to request a donation box at their business can contact Freudenberg at 850-287-6958 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.