Firefighters Help With Toy Drive To Address COVID Concerns
When the coronavirus pandemic threatened the annual Wyoming County Toy Fund, organizers partnered with eight local fire departments to collect and distribute toys to families in need.
Nathan England is captain of the Mullens Fire Department, one of the departments that helped out with the Toy Fund this year.
“It's always hard to come and ask for help,” England said. “It's not an easy task for any human to do, especially if you know you're trying your hardest, but you can’t seem to get over the hump. We've all been there. More times than not we've all been there.”
About 23% of Wyoming County residents live in poverty, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau. England says that statistic makes it all the more important for local fire departments to lend a hand.
“It just makes you realize really what Christmas is about,” England said. You it's a humbling experience, to say the least. It's about all I can say on that. It's a humbling experience.”
This year, the Toy Fund partnered with the local fire departments to make sure they could meet COVID safety guidelines while distributing toys.
“Well, the bottom line, everybody needs Christmas, it doesn't matter what age you are, it's always nice to have a gift,” England said. “I think we as a fire department, we're always in tragedies, we very rarely get to see the good things in life, and being able to see that smile on kids’ faces, that’s something that's irreplaceable.”
The idea was to host the distribution sites at well-ventilated locations around the county in hopes to cut back on crowds and keep things safe.
“We have a table set up in the front to allow two families in at a time, we're trying to keep the social-distancing, asking people to wear their masks,” England said. “We're actually picking up the toys and loading them in a box or something along those lines.”
After the initial line in the morning, there was a slow trickle of parents who came to the fire stations and carefully selected one toy per child. Todd Norris is a Mullens police officer.
“People in this area are not immune to financial struggles,” Norris said. “Being in the coalfields, it's something that you expect or it's just, I mean, it's it's just kind of a way of life.”
This time, he’s not in town for work.
“It's been a tough year, tough year and a half, I guess,” Norris said. “I got laid off from the railroad back in 2019. And so yeah, it's been rough.”
Norris has known about the Toy Fund, but this is the first time he’s stopped by to pick out toys.
“It means a lot to be able to come down and get a gift and and know that you're going to have have something,” Norris said.
Organizers hope that the additional locations made it easier on families who didn’t have to travel as far.
“As of right now, I can honestly say one way or another, I believe definitely it would reach more families this way because of the ease of access to the fire station versus having to go to Wyoming East or Westside,” England said.
Families with a child 12 or younger — who have received assistance from the Department of Health and Human Resources — were eligible to pick up a toy.
The DHHR will tally the numbers to find out how many families participated this year.