- Associated Press - Saturday, December 19, 2015

GADSDEN, Ala. (AP) - Gadsden Fire Chief Stephen Carroll said he couldn’t ask for better support from the people of Gadsden and the surrounding community when it comes to giving for the Toys from Santa project.

He and the firefighters who help raise money and collect toys for the Salvation Army’s effort each Christmas appreciate that willingness to give, because the numbers of families who seek help for their children continues to grow each year.

“Last year, we helped about 70 children,” Carroll said. “This year we’re getting toys for 100 children,” possibly more if there’s enough money.

Carroll said the fire department has been working to raise $23,000 needed for gifts and everything related to the project. The department had great success in its roadblocks this year, and has been fortunate to have some big donors: The Willow Tree, The Santa Claus Society, Fehrer Automotive and the Red Knights Motorcycle Club, Chapter 10.

Alan Rogers, Tim Griffith and Kelley O’Bryant are members of the club - two retired firefighters and one current firefighter who use their love of riding motorcycles as a way to raise money for this charitable effort and many others.

Rogers said they raised more than $800 this year for Toys from Santa. Griffith said they have two rides each year, to help this and other projects, from the Ronald McDonald House to individuals who need plane tickets to Houston for cancer treatment.

The club members said it’s the people who join them for their rides who help make their giving possible.

Carroll said the fire department’s effort helps children who are not receiving help through another agency. When people apply to the fire department, he said, they provide evidence of their need and information than can be checked through the Willie Joe Estes Clearinghouse, a centralized checkpoint to ensure agencies are not duplicating efforts in helping a family.

If a family has unmet needs, Carroll said, he will take a specified amount of money - depending on how much money has been raised - and take them to shop for what they need, then cash out purchases for them, keeping the receipts for program records.

“There’s nothing more gratifying than seeing these parents who are down on their luck - the look on their faces when they see they will be able to give their children something for Christmas,” Carroll said.

He said he’s had parents who will pick out one toy - one tea set - and say that’s enough. He said he ensures children helped receive more than one thing for Christmas. Firefighters still are collecting toys this week and will be collecting money through next week.

Carroll said they sometimes have people who wait until the last few days before Christmas, because they think things will turn around and they won’t need help, only to realize they do.

“The people have been really good about contributing to our campaign,” he said. “I know they do the same for other charities in the city.

“You can’t ask for better givers than we have around here,” Carroll said.

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Information from: The Gadsden Times, http://www.gadsdentimes.com

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