Santa had a little help handing out toys this year from the Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority (RFA).
The RFA and the Kent Food Bank hosted the annual Toys for Joy program Dec. 19 at the Kent Lutheran Church. This year, more than 5,000 toys were donated.
According to Kyle Ohashi, captain and public information officer for the RFA, the fire department has been doing this program for more than 20 years now.
He said this is a joint effort with Kent firefights, Local 1747, their union and the Kent Firefighters Foundation — the nonprofit for the union created to support programs and people in the community.
Ohashi said every year there are barrels set up at different fire stations in the area to collect new and unwrapped toys for children newborn all the way up to 12 or 13 years of age.
“Those toys are taken to one of our fire stations where they are collected and sorted into bins. 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,” he said.
Once sorted, Ohashi said the station hosts “wrapping parties,” which is where they invite the public to come and wrap all the toys that were donated.
There were two wrapping parties this year where 4,000 of the 5,000 toys were wrapped and sorted.
“At our toy wrapping parties, we probably had 300 people between the two nights. We had about 100 to 125 people the first night and we had close to 200 people on Tuesday night (the next wrapping party) and it was great,” Ohashi said.
He said they were able to get all of those gifts wrapped in about an hour and half both nights.
He continued with, “It’s a great opportunity for families. There are some families that have been coming to the gift wrapping party for years and we’re seeing other generations of their family and then we’re seeing people that are high school students looking for community service hours, or families that just hear about it, scout groups, 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 those gifts are utilized in different ways to help the community. For example, toys are donated to the Holiday Engine program.
He said they also collect food and monetary donations out of the Maple Valley area that goes to the Holiday Engine Program. This program has been successful this year as well, it said in a press release from the RFA.
The release said the Holiday Engine Program has collected over $21,7000 and 32,000 pounds of food for families in the Maple Valley area.
Ohashi said extra toys are also donated to places like Appian Way Apartments, which is a low-income housing unit.
“We work with their management to provide gifts for their community members. There’s a number of groups like that where we support them in smaller numbers and separately from the main group, it just makes it easier to get them taken care and provide for their needs, rather than trying to mix them in with everybody else,” he explained.
The 4,000 toys that were wrapped and ready to go to the Kent Lutheran Church were loaded up on a large semi-truck that Reddaway Trucking provides, Ohashi said.
The thousands of toys are then unloaded and organized into different age group categories.
At the church, there were many different volunteers there to help organize and distribute the toys.
By the end of it all, Ohashi said virtually all of the toys are taken, but the RFA is still receiving toy donations and those will be taken down to the food bank as well. If there are still some leftover, he said those are stored in a large container that they have to utilize next year.
Ohashi said it is important to do donation drives like Toys for Joy because the purpose of the fire department is to help people.
“Usually that means when people call 911, but there are a number of people that need other types of assistance. If we, 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. That’s… it’s a no-brainer,” he explained. “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 — I mean 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 plant 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. That’s why we do the program.”