As Christmas draws near, Baton Rouge firefighters and police officers took on the job of Santa Claus over the weekend. Their sleigh? A fire truck, of course.
Mounds of Christmas gifts — from basketballs and racecars to dolls and tea sets — filled the back of a fire truck for the inaugural “Stuff the Truck” toy collection and giveaway event, put on by the Baton Rouge Association of Minority Firefighters and Magnolia Peace Officers.
The firefighters and officers collected toys Friday afternoon, stuffed them in the back of the fire truck and set out Saturday morning to deliver the gifts to children in need at the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services.
“Firemen are in the homes of people quite often making first aid calls,” said Mark Miles, a spokesman for the Baton Rouge Fire Department. “We get to see a lot and experience a lot. Just looking at some of the kids, you can see they wish they had more.”
One by one, children stepped up onto the back of the fire truck and were handed a gift by a group of firemen. Santa Claus and his elf stopped by to take pictures with the children and to read “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” inside the DCFS office, where each child was given a bag of treats.
“I loved the turnout,” said Dewey Allen, a member of the Baton Rouge Association of Minority Firefighters who helped hand out toys. “We know there’s a need for this. Every child deserves to have a good Christmas.”
Foster parents Wanda and Troy Garrett stood outside with their two foster children, an 11-year-old boy and 4-year-old girl, and their adopted 3-year-old son, Quint, as they waited for their toys.
“He wants to get in the firetruck,” said Troy Garrett with a laugh, as Quint pointed toward the big white fire engine.
“It’s a nice event,” Wanda Garrett said of Stuff the Truck. “It was a good, safe family gathering.”
The Garretts said they’ve taken in 49 foster children over the past six years through the DCFS. Two years ago, the department named the Garretts foster parents of the year.
Baton Rouge has more than 200 children in foster care, said Jean Guinta, DCFS regional administrator for the Capital City. Most of the children at the Stuff the Truck event were foster children, along with a few families for whom the department provides services.
Guinta said the firefighters and police officers reached out to DCFS about the Stuff the Truck event because they needed an outlet to distribute the toys.
“It definitely has been a successful event,” Guinta said. “The firemen came out in force. It’s heartwarming to see. It speaks well of what the community can do.”
Toys were donated from several individuals, agencies and businesses within the community, including the fire and police departments. This was the first year for the Stuff the Truck toy collection, which the Association of Minority Firefighters and Magnolia Peace Officers hope to turn into an annual event.
For Allen and the other firemen handing out gifts, Stuff the Truck was more than just a chance to give back to those in need; it was an opportunity to interact with the kids as positive role models in their lives.
“I love to see young men and women look up to us as firefighters,” Allen said. “I love to see their faces light up when they see us.”