BY ANGELJEAN CHIARAMIDA
---- — SEABROOK — This year, as they have for decades, Seabrook firefighters are embarking on their annual toy drive to ensure all local children find longed-for gifts under their tree Christmas morning, even if their families are enduring financial stress.
Many in town have for years helped the firefighters collect or buy more than $10,000 worth of toys requested by Seabrook kids. Last year that meant 240 children received at least two gifts they specifically requested —and perhaps a few more for good measure, — according to Seabrook firefighter Marc Bibaud, the chairman of this year’s campaign.
Wal-Mart is again supporting the program by hosting two “Stuff the Bus” events in the parking lot of the Seabrook store from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 8 and again on Sunday, Dec. 15. On those two days, Seabrook firefighters will be outside Wal-Mart, with a special Christmas tree that has tags carrying the name of a gift requested by a local youngster.
“People can come and take a tag from the tree, then go in and buy the gift,” Bibaud said. “When they have it, they can give the gift to a firefighter at the event who’ll put it in the bus. Or people can give us cash so we can buy the gifts. A dollar’s great; $10 is better. Towards the end of the campaign whatever gifts are missing from the kids’ wish lists, I’ll go buy with the money donated.”
There’s been some interesting gifts requested this year by local children that if received will make their holiday joyful. A 7-year-old boy wants arts and crafts supplies, a 5-year-old requested a Captain America doll, others prefer Iron Man and Spider Man characters. An 11-year old budding photographer, requested a digital camera, Bibaud said, and two boys, a 5-year-old and an 11-year-old asked for firefighter suits and equipment.
“You know they’re going to get those,” Bibaud said, laughing. “There are websites we can go to to buy the gear in the right sizes.”
One glitch in this year’s campaign had Bibaud worried. Due to a change in policy at Wal-Mart, Bibaud said the company isn’t allowing any collection boxes in the store where customers for years have dropped off gifts throughout the holiday season for this toy drive. Nor is Wal-Mart allowing the firefighters to leave its gift-tag-carrying Christmas tree inside the store, he said.
“We’ve had those things in Wal-Mart for years, but there a change in policy nationally that’s not allowing any unattended solicitation displays in the stores,” Bibaud said. “But I spoke with one of Wal-Mart’s regional marketing people and he said Wal-Mart will work with us in other ways.”
Bibaud said he now feels the campaign won’t suffer for lack of toys due to the company’s new policy. He said Wal-Mart has also offered to help by making a cash grant to the program, as well as to donate needed toys.
Toy collection boxes — which have toy tags attached — will still be available at Town Hall, as well as Seabrook’s Provident Bank branch, another long-time supporter of the firefighters’ toy drive which also gives a significant cash donation for the cause.
Dec. 10 is the deadline for families to sign up their children for the program, Bibaud said. Families whose children qualify for the schools’ free-and-reduced lunch program are eligible to apply, he said, and applications are available at the front offices at Seabrook Elementary and Middle schools.
There are also a few applications at the Seabrook Fire Station for families who have children too young to be in the school system, Bibaud said.
“One mother of a four-month old just asked us for wipes, diapers and baby clothes,” he said.
Donations of age-appropriate, new, unwrapped toys, as well as cash and gift certificates are always welcome, he said, will be accepted until Dec. 19. Those who don’t know what to buy can call Bibaud at the fire station for guidance, he said, or chat with firefighters on Sundays, Dec. 8 or Dec. 15 while they’re at Wal-Mart.
No toy or donation goes to waste, he said, if there are any toys remaining after all the children’s wishes are granted, the firefighters donate them for children who’ll attend the annual free Gift of Giving Christmas Dinner, this year to be held on Dec. 22, at the Seabrook Community Center, on Lafayette Road.