The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

December 20, 2013

Firefighters, kids enjoy holiday shopping together

Putting out fires, responding to medical calls and working wreck scenes are all part of a typical week for the members of Athens Fire and Rescue.

But on Monday, all available firefighters and many of their spouses stepped away from their regular activities and came together for a Christmas assistance program held for 10-plus years at the Walmart in Athens.

Shop with a Firefighter, which is sponsored by the department’s auxiliary and funded through fundraisers and a donation by Walmart, invites every school in the city and county school systems to participate.

The program pairs a firefighter with children from one family, and together they embark on a one to two-hour shopping trip. This year, 57 children traipsed the aisles, searching for their favorite toys, selecting new outfits and picking up personal-care items.

“The children receive $100 to spend, and they are able to use $50 to buy anything they want and the other $50 is used on necessity items, such as shoes, clothes, soap and lotion,” said Dawn Blakely, the administrative assistant for Athens Fire and Rescue. “This is a tradition for the department, and Walmart has always helped us.”

Athens Fire and Rescue Capt. Heath Conn said the program allows the auxiliary to interact with the community and spend time with their families while providing gift-giving assistance.

“We raise money for this every year, and it all goes into this program,” said Conn, who has been with the department for 10 years. “It’s just a special time, and we get to give back to our community.

“It’s a privilege to take these kids shopping, and we get our families involved and let them be a part of this.”

Conn and his wife, Jo, were matched with a girl and three boys from one family. He said all four children seemed to enjoy picking out their clothes even more than buying new toys.

Blakely said the event is a highlight for the department each year.

“It’s very heart-wrenching, and we’re very thankful to see smiles on little faces that might not otherwise have what some other children get to have,” she said. “It is very rewarding, and everyone that is available participates every year. We’ve always pulled together and done this, and we always look forward to it.”

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