It felt like a grand, secret toy store.
But in reality, it was only a storage space at a Richmond fire station that was jam-packed with thousands of toys. On Wednesday, volunteers with Chevron Richmond were busy supporting Richmond police and fire officials in bagging up gifts for the annual Richmond Fire & Police Holiday Program. The toys will be handed out to local, low-income children three days before Christmas as part of a massive community drive led by the Richmond fire and police departments for the last 32 years.
“We have the ability of serving 1,200 families, and that usually means about 3,500 children,” program organizer Bea Roberson said.
The event begins with donations of toys to food barrels at fire and police stations citywide, along with monetary donations. In the fall, families sign up at the EM Downer YMCA to receive the gifts and food. The sign-ups help identify the ages and genders of the participating children, allowing organizers to choose appropriate gifts for each of them.
This week, workers from Chevron Richmond, one of the program’s main sponsors, as well as youth from Richmond High, Hercules High and the nonprofit Girls Inc., are helping to bag gifts for each child. This coming Saturday, volunteers will also bag food from the Food Bank for distribution to the families.
All of the events will support the major annual giveaway on Dec. 22, when hundreds of families will gather again at the EM Downer Family YMCA to receive the bags of gifts, brand new bikes (assembled by the firefighters), and bags of food, including a tray of chicken thighs and legs to cook during the holidays, Roberson said.
It’s a lot of work involving many volunteers, but the tradition during this season of giving is well worth it, Roberson said.
The event was inspired back in 1989 by now-retired Richmond firefighter Rod Woods, who organized a toy drive. Meanwhile, the Richmond Police Department had been running a food drive. After many years of growing their separate programs, and having outgrown space at the Booker T. Anderson Community Center, Fire and Police united as one entity, with the Chevron Fire Department also stepping up and adding their continued support. For a time, El Cerrito Fire also joined the effort.
Later, the E.M. Downer YMCA offered a larger space in their gym and administrative support.
“Corporate sponsors such as Chevron, Mechanics Bank, Richmond Sanitary, Richmond Rotary, Sims Metal, Costco, the Courtyard by Marriott and many others stepped up to the plate to offer not only money, but also volunteers,” according to program officials.