Thanks to Guilford's professional firefighters, Santa Claus is coming to town to bring toys to more girls and boys-including those in need.
Now in its third year, the annual Guilford Professional Firefighters Santa Delivery Drive is booked up with another phenomenal response from residents eager to sponsor a visit from Santa (riding a fire truck and bearing a gift) to their little girl or boy (deliveries are scheduled to take place over the coming weekends).
Each year, participants sign up in advance, making a $20 donation per gift that they've also pre-wrapped, addressed, and left at Guilford Fire Headquarters. Over the weekends (Thursday to Sunday) before Christmas, the gifts are delivered to each child by no less than Santa himself, riding an antique fire truck up to his or her home.
Proceeds from the drive help fund educational programs brought to town by Guilford Professional Firefighters Union Local 4177. At press time, registration (which closed Dec. 3) was looking like it would beat last year's mark of 167 deliveries, said drive founder and organizer, firefighter/paramedic John Planas.
This year, in addition to delivering toys to kids with families able to make the contribution and provide a gift, a very lucky group of underprivileged Guilford girls and boys will also be getting a surprise visit from a fire truck-riding Santa, bearing gifts generously donated by local merchants.
"Captain Chris Gode had the idea this year to go to the town's Social Services office and work with them so those kids could be included in the drive this year," said Planas.
Last week, Gode, Planas, and others from the department visited local shops and received great support for the new idea. Participating businesses (at press time) included Walmart, Jordie's Toy Shoppe, The Purple Bear, and Just Hatched. Some gave gift certificates and others, toys and merchandise. For example, The Purple Bear donated $300 worth of toys and Just Hatched will outfit one of the children on the list from head to toe, said Planas.
"Every year, we build on it," he said of the popular drive, which brings Santa around on an antique fire truck, tricked out with lights, siren, and some pretty excited firefighters on board.
"I think the firefighters have more fun than the kids!" said Planas.
Guilford has 32 full-time career firefighters and the money raised by this drive goes into Local 4177's community education fund, said Planas.
"We put it in the fund for fire-prevention education opportunities for local schools. This year, for Fire Prevention Week in October, we brought in the Smoke Trailer and visited each of the schools and provided education for each of schools," with some Guilford elementary schools putting as many as 220 kids through the program, he said.
"They all were sent through the Smoke Trailer and were taught how to get out of a building. That money we raise from these events provides these opportunities for education, so it's well worth it," Planas said.