By Traci Chapman
A group of people known for how much they do for others is asking for help – not surprisingly, so they can make positive change those who need it most.
Mustang Fire Department is asking for residents to look into their hearts and find a way to help children who might not otherwise have any presents under the tree. In its 14th year, the department’s annual Santa Toy Shoppe has always been a major endeavor, bringing holiday spirit to hundreds of children, as part of a larger Canadian County effort.
This year, however, the shelves are looking pretty bare – and Mustang firefighters are worried about meeting a need that could top 900 children this year, Capt. Andy Willrath said.
“We are really, really down this year, and we’re just about a month until our distribution date,” he said. “We need some help in a big way.”
The Toy Shoppe helps families from Mustang, Yukon and Piedmont – almost 300 of them, with the number of children impacted steadily increasing each year, Willrath said. Firefighters collect new, unwrapped toys and monetary donations for children and youth, ranging from infants to teenagers.
“We provide gifts for the less fortunate families across eastern Canadian County – about half of those families are from Mustang,” Willrath said. “Toys are donated by residents, schools and other local businesses.”
This year, the main item distribution is set for Dec. 16, although MFD helps families all the way through Christmas eve, when necessary. The effort is so massive and need so great, the next year’s planning begins literally days after the current year’s distribution, Willrath said. While sometimes the effort can have a slow start, Willrath said this this year is a first – and not a great one.
“Right now we are in need of all toys – we are extremely low on everything,” Willrath said. “In the past, we have been able to focus on a certain need, but this year we are in need of everything.”
The Toy Shoppe is a collaboration of several fire departments and other organizations, set up as an actual store where parents can pick out gifts their child is hoping for that year. While it’s a blessing to those who need it, Willrath said it is also an amazing experience for those who take part, either by donating or working during the actual distribution.
“Doing it this way brings back to the entire family that Christmas feeling you remember when you were a child,” he said. “Santa happens for those kids Christmas morning.”
Toys and monetary donations can be taken to Mustang Fire Department by Dec. 15, in order to be set up for the Dec. 16 distribution, but toys are welcome all the way through Christmas Eve, Willrath said. MFD is located at 465 W. state Highway 152.
“Anyone that questions the existence of Santa should see the look on the faces of the parents, knowing their child is going to get a special gift under the tree,” Willrath said. “It proves to me that Santa is real.”