SOUTHINGTON — Bells rang as Santa and his elves visited Fire Engine Company 5 Sunday morning to help with the company’s annual food drive and a toy drive spearheaded by a local ninth-grader.
"I think it's our favorite part about the holiday," said Kim Sprague, whose 13-year-old daughter, Valerie, is in her fifth year of organizing an effort to collect toys for children in the emergency room at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. "I think people just need something to make them feel good and to feel like they're a part of something is just such a great feeling and I think it's contagious.”
This year the family partnered with Avon Products, which donated Herbie the Hedgehog stuffed animals to the medical center. For every $20 Herbie sold, Avon will donate one to the center. Other toy donations Sunday included dolls and a race track set.
"If you've ever been to the hospital or if your child is in the hospital, it's a pretty scary thing,” Kim Sprague said. “So to have them get a toy like this where they can hug and smile and distract them, that's a beautiful thing.”
"It's really cool to think that just five years ago we started this and it's still going," Valerie Sprague said.
She started the drive in 2013 after seeing a CCMC commercial about kids being treated that didn’t have toys. That first year they sold around 800 teddy bears.
"She's got a heart of gold, it's amazing. We do our flower sale, she comes down and has a lemonade stand for Saint Jude, she's just a really good kid," fire police officer Al Urso Jr. said of Valerie Sprague.
The growth of Sprague’s fundraiser shows the unique bond the fire company has with the neighborhood, Urso said.
"We're the only firehouse in a residential neighborhood, so we've got a kind of a bond with the neighbors,” Urso said. “Usually we'll have a pancake breakfast or something and you just get the same people from the neighborhood, the faces you recognize every year over and over. It's just a very giving community.”
The fire company has held a food drive for decades, typically driving the engines around the neighborhood and collecting donations from people’s homes.
"Coming up to Christmas, this is the one thing that starts to put me in the mood,” Urso said. “To see the kids come down, to see the people bring toys and gifts it just what it's about. It's about everyone helping each other.”
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