By Terrill Covey
Hampton Union, Tuesday, December 31, 2002
HAMPTON - The Seacoast Firefighters toy bank was successful again this year in bringing joy to people who may not have expected to smile much this Christmas.
The goal of the program, which both the Hampton and Seabrook fire departments are part of, is to bring gifts to children who are spending the holidays in a hospital, or displaced from their home for other reasons.
They even made sure that Santa Claus knew where the victims of a Christmas Eve fire in Hampton were staying, so they could have gifts to open Christmas morning.
In its 25th year, the Seacoast Firefighters Toy Bank is made up of firefighters from 10 different departments throughout the Seacoast, and between them, they make sure to get to all the local hospitals and children who have experienced tragedy during the holiday season and throughout the year.
"That's what firefighters do," said Capt. Rusty Bridle, of the Hampton Fire Department. "They protect lives and put out fires, and they try to make people feel better."
He said that Christmas is the most important time of year for the toy bank, but it is used throughout the year to bring joy to children who have had loss.
"They have had enough tragedy going on in their lives," Bridle said. "To think that Santa has lost track of them or forgotten them would be horrible."
Firefighter Robert Mawson, of the Seabrook Fire Department, said that, although it is hard work, the rewards make it more than worthwhile.
"Just seeing the expressions on the faces of the kids who need it sums it all up," Mawson said. "You can tell you made a difference, and it feels good." Bridle said the firefighters and the people throughout the Seacoast who donate money and gifts to the program are the ones who keep it going.
"(Capt. Tuggy Hewlett) and I put in a lot of time off duty, as well as time on duty," Mawson said. "But there were about 180 kids who we brought gifts to this year, so we had a lot to do."
He said the collaboration with Wal-Mart and Sam's Club for their "Stuff the toy drive was a big help, and he hopes to see that event grow in the future.
"There are five area Wal-Marts, and 10 departments are part of the toy bank," Mawson said. "So, there were two departments at each Wal-Mart. It was a good, successful event and, hopefully, it will grow every year, because there are more and more needy families every year.~~
Bridle said the program has served its purpose well, as Santa has been able to visit local hospitals, and provide families who had lost everything with a window of hope by remembering them at the holidays.
"We needed everybody who helped out," Mawson said. "We really appreciate it."
"It's become tradition," Bridle said. "Our families get involved in it, too, with wrapping gifts and buying toys. It gives them an appreciation for how lucky we are.