November is already here and the holidays are around the corner. The Johnston Fire Department already has the giving spirit in mind, as they embark on charitable drives for both the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
The JFD starts the giving with an in-house Thanksgiving food drive, collecting all the trimmings for a turkey dinner to go toward baskets distributed from fire headquarters on Nov. 19 at 11 a.m.
“All of our stations come together. We bring in all of the canned food, potatoes – everything we need for a full Thanksgiving meal. This year, my goal is to get 20 baskets for families in our towns,” said Rescue Captain Cherra Wheeler, who is coordinating both events.
Helping 20 families would be an increase from last year, when the Fire Department donated 16 baskets. The year before, they gave 12.
“Each year we’ve been able to increase a little bit more. Through the schools, there’s more than that that need the help,” Wheeler said.
The families served are identified through Johnston Public Schools, so firefighters never see firsthand whom they are supporting.
“The schools see firsthand how many kids and families are struggling. We do it anonymously; we don’t know whom they’re going to,” she said.
Still, the department is well aware of the need. Wheeler says that firefighters and Rescue personnel see every day how people are struggling when they answer calls into the community.
“We can tell by what we see, and we want to know what we can do to help out,” she said.
Donations of food items for a Thanksgiving meal will be accepted through Friday, Nov. 16, giving the department enough time to assemble the baskets for the Monday pickup by Johnston school representatives. Donations can be made at fire headquarters at 1520 Atwood Avenue.
“People want to drop off canned goods for Thanksgiving foods – carrots, cranberry sauce, instant potatoes, stuffing, anything like that – I can accept that,” Wheeler said.
Headquarters and all four fire stations are likewise accepting donations of new, unwrapped toys for children of all ages, especially those ages 5 through 12, for their participation in the annual Toys for Tots campaign. Collection boxes are set up in the foyers of each of the stations.
“We always help out with Toys for Tots. This year, my goal is to fill the back of a rescue with toys so I can have the most toys donated, and drive that rescue down to the facility in Providence,” Wheeler said.
She says the cause is particularly important to Johnston firefighters, many of whom have children of their own.
“Kids love to open presents on Christmas Day and we love to see that joy and laughter on their face when they open them. Our guys feel that sense of joy when they see their own kids open presents, and they know they’ve helped someone in the program as well,” she said.
The deadline for donations to Toys for Tots is Dec. 19. Johnston residents can drop them off at any fire station, or at collection events scheduled for Dec. 1 and 15, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the parking lot of Planet Fitness and Job Lot. Johnston rescues will be there taking donations, and Wheeler expects a visit from several Marines, the military branch responsible for coordinating Toys for Tots at a statewide level.
Although the winter months are especially busy for the Johnston Fire Department, Wheeler said her crew looks forward to the holiday drives as a way to do some good in the community.
“We’re public servants and it is part of our job to give back to the community and help others,” she said. “That’s why we took this job.”