The firefighters and volunteers kept talking about the same thing during lunch: Supporting the local community is the heart of the annual Firefighters Holiday Toy Drive.
The group, consisting of members of the Men of Fire Motorcycle Club NW Arizona Chapter 6, the Community Emergency Response Team, Wendall “Fireball” Jones, Luke “Turtle” Manor and others, traveled from stop to stop picking up toys that will eventually make their way into the hands of children throughout the Tri-state including Fort Mohave, Mohave Valley and beyond. Jones, of Fireball RV Movers, donated the use of his truck and trailer to help. Manor, an employee, was there to help Jones do so.
The toy drive reaches to Laughlin and Searchlight, Nev., but also out to Golden Shores, Lake Havasu City and Yucca, Ariz. Capt. Jeff Jackson said they get toys to about 1,000 to 1,200 children each year. About $100 is spent on each child, meaning about $100,000 is raised in toys and monetary donations, he said.
Bonnie and Jim McCartney are members of the Community Emergency Response Team. While participating in the toy drive wasn’t initially planned, she said they have loved being part of the team. Being part of a good cause also helped make it a special day, she added.
McCartney said it’s an honor to help the guys during fires when the rehabilitation unit is needed but to be able to help with the toy drive is a continuation of that honor.
She and Jim like not only living in the community but being part of it and participating in it, McCartney said. It’s good to be part of this event, she continued.
Jim Smith, vice president of the Men of Fire MC, said he has been involved with the drive since the start of his career, for 24 years. The friends, the camaraderie and the good deed is what it’s about, he added.
“I look forward to doing this every year,” Smith said. He has watched the growing pains of the program but also the successes and seeing that it’s now taking trucks and trailers is amazing, he continued.
What better way of helping the community and building a relationship between the motorcycle club and the community than to participate in the toy drive, Men of Fire MC President Ryan Granath asked. The club has established itself more through poker runs supporting local veterans but also through the toy drive, he added.
Granath said one of the best parts is the ability for the community to show its support for itself. Searchlight is a good example of a small community that doesn’t have a large community to pull from, so neighboring communities can step up and help, he continued.
The all-day venture began with a pick up at Harrah’s Laughlin on Casino Drive in Laughlin and ended at the Mohave Valley Daily News on Miracle Mile in Bullhead City. There were about 20 stops in total with several casinos and local businesses contributing to the effort. It took several trucks with trailers, including the 1938 Ford firetruck, to haul all the toys and bikes back to what is referred to as the toy store.
Bicycles, art kits, stuffed animals, games, books and even cash donations were among the items picked up along the way. The Tropicana Laughlin made an additional monetary donation, giving a check for $3,525 in additional to the 60 bicycles and hundreds of toys donated. Western Area Regional Medical Center donated toys and an additional $800.
It is at the “store” the piles of toys are sorted for age and gender and readied to be “shopped,” Jackson said. When the drive started, firefighters delivered the toys. As the program grew, it became too difficult to do that so it was rearranged to have it so the toys are picked up, he continued.
The program has become successful enough that sometimes they have to store some toys, particularly if for some reason some of the toys don’t end up getting picked up by families, Jackson said. The goal is for everything to be used instead of stored so there have been a few instances where items have been given to foster homes or for birthdays, he added. In certain situations, the one condition is the items stay at the foster home or child care center so that there’s an ongoing benefit to the donation.
Jackson said there are many children who need help for the holidays but every year the community opens up to help and it gets done and without a lot of effort on his part or other volunteers to prompt that support.