The Ottumwa firefighters are ready with open arms for the second year of Operation Sparky Claus.
Assistant Chief Mike Craff said the department started collecting toys for Salvation Army last year after firefighter Josh Chance wanted to organize something the department could do to help local children during the holidays.
“Last year was the first year and we exceeded our expectations,” Craff said. “Salvation Army distributes them to local families.”
Salvation Army Capt. Oliver Knuth said last year they were able to help 300 families, including 525 children, with food, toys or both.
That’s 1,100 to 1,200 toys from area business and organizations, Knuth said.
“Each child was able to get two toys from us,” he said. “A game for the whole family to play, hats, gloves, scarves, or some combination of that, and a smaller toy, like something for a stocking.”
It’s so important to receive local donations, he said.
“My wife [Capt. Tabitha Knuth] and I were just talking at Rotary [Monday] and one of the interesting things was when my wife and I were in Des Moines for six years, we had to purchase probably half to three-quarters of the toys we provided, because we just didn’t get the amount of donations that we get here,” he said.
Ottumwa’s different, he said, since local businesses and organizations have decided they want to donate toys directly to the local Salvation Army so they know they’ll go to local children and families.
Toys from “Toys for Tots” are sent to Des Moines and then redistributed to communities statewide.
“Last year we didn’t have to buy any toys, which is just amazing,” Knuth said. “It tells you how important it really is. Obviously we make sure every child gets a toy, so they all got something for Christmas. But it saves us from having to buy toys in order to do that.”
One common misconception is that Salvation Army runs Toys for Tots, Knuth said.
In fact, the U.S. Marine Corps started Toys for Tots in 1947, and helps multiple organizations with toy donations, of which Salvation Army is a large recipient.
“But area businesses wanted them to stay right here, so they gave the toys to us to distribute,” he said.
Salvation Army will also set up Angel Trees at Walmart, Kmart and the Quincy Place Mall this year. Toys from these also go specifically to the Ottumwa Salvation Army.
Donations of new, unwrapped toys can be dropped off at the central fire station, 201 N. Wapello St., or the south station at the corner of Ransom and Church Streets until Dec. 20.
“It’s really been a good program,” Craff said.
Firefighter Rodney Long is chairing the 79th annual Firemens Ball.
The money raised through ticket sales goes toward the department’s fire safety education program.
“It buys coloring books, videos, training stuff for children at the schools,” Long said.
Firefighters go to every kindergarten, second grade and sixth grade class to reinforce the importance of fire safety, including smoke detectors, having two ways out, establishing a family meeting place and more.
“We catch them at those times to get them familiar with it,” he said.
79th annual Firemens Ball
Doors open at 7 p.m., Friday, Nov. 16
“Jennifer Handling and the Revolution Band” starts at 8 p.m., plays until midnight
$7 per person in advance or at the door