By Mike Kinney
Five hundred families in need lined up in their vehicles today to pick up gift cards for the holidays thanks to a community effort that dates back to 1989.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers of the annual Richmond Fire and Police Holiday Program were concerned they may not be able to do the program this year. Michelle Milam, City of Richmond Crime Prevention Manager, said the need has been so great this year that it was important to move forward with a modified version.
And so Richmond’s public safety agencies again teamed up with usual community partners such as Richmond Rotary Club, Chevron, Mechanics Bank, and other individual donors to hold a curbside pickup event at LaVonya DeJean Middle School.
Traditionally, the program invites hundreds of families who registered in advance to a community center to pick up donated toys and bikes. This year, families lined up in their vehicles to pick up their donated gift cards and certificates.
As part of the giveaway, Richmond Rotary bought 100 gift certificates from Rich City Rides to provide to families. Families can bring their gift certificates to the bike cooperative to pick up a new child’s bike.
“I think the thing that drove us is the need,” Milam said. “Over 1,300 people applied to the program online, more than any other year in recent memory.”
The Richmond Fire and Police Holiday Program was inspired back in 1989 by now-retired Richmond firefighter Rod Woods, who organized a toy drive. Around that time, the Richmond Police Department had been running a food drive. After many years of growing their separate programs, Fire and Police united as one, with the Chevron Fire Department also stepping up and adding its continued support.
“Today is an opportunity for both Fire & Police to participate in celebrating better times since the holidays are here during the pandemic,” Richmond Fire Capt. Rico Rincon said.
Added Richmond Fire Chief Adrian Sheppard, “The Holiday Toy program is a confirmation of all the good the Richmond community has to offer. Each year, members from the fire and police unions partner with many community volunteers and businesses to make the holidays better for those in need. Seeing people give of themselves to help another is heartwarming and proof of Richmond’s good nature.”