Special Delivery: AWB Holiday Kids' Tree Project helps families in need
Here comes Santa Claus.
Washington firefighters are rolling out this month to buy toys, purchase food and connect with rural families in need. The money to make it happen comes from the generosity of AWB members and other donors who gave to the 2019 Holiday Kids' Tree Project.
Firefighters often deliver the presents to the family's home, carrying new school clothes and toys in brightly wrapped packages.
"A lot of times it's a surprise for the children," said Nick Bacon, a firefighter from the Asotin County Fire District No. 1.
Bacon was on the road for more than six hours Friday to travel to the State Reception Room at the Washington State Capitol. It was his first time. There, AWB President Kris Johnson handed out $20,500 in grants and toys to officials from 19 rural fire districts.
Asotin County's grant will help five families, including 17 children, this holiday season. The funds will purchase toys, clothing, basic household supplies and nonperishable food items to see them through the holiday.
"Being able to do something like this…is huge," Bacon said. "Our entire membership is beyond excited." He learned about the grant from Kristin Kemak, president and CEO of the Lewis Clark Valley Chamber of Commerce.
The Asotin County firefighters normally spend their own money to help three families at Thanksgiving, and two during the Christmas season, he said. Thanks to the Holiday Kids' Tree Project, they're able to use their own funds to cover the Thanksgiving families, and the AWB grant to help five families this month.
Barbara Davis from Grant County Fire District No. 8 says her department is also leveraging the grant. Firefighters there have matched the AWB grant by donating $1,000 of their own money, which means they will be able to help four families in Grant County. The funds will purchase toys, school clothes, shoes and more. It gives the parents some flexibility.
"They were really able to make Christmas happen for their families," she said of the program in years past.
Linda Layton of Camano Island Fire and Rescue also made her first trip to the grant awards.
Camano Island's grant will to the Stanwood Camino Food Bank, and the Christmas House project.
Her department, like many, works with local schools to identity families that could use a boost this winter. She also learned about the project from her local chamber of commerce.
"We're excited," Layton said. "Our firefighters are ready to start handing out gifts and making people happy."
A few minutes after the grants and toys were handed out Friday evening, Gov. Jay Inslee welcomed the crowd to the Holiday Kids' Tree lighting ceremony and introduced this year's official tree lighter, 10-year-old Jayden Nelson of Lewis County.
Nelson has made headlines for her work to raise money for the Mary Bridge Children's Hospital.
"This is a person who wakes up in the morning thinking of her fellow Washingtonians," Inslee said.
Nelson flipped the switch and the crowed cheered. Then the firefighters heaved the gift bags over their shoulders, and got to work.