OTTUMWA — The annual Sparky Claus program is entering its ninth year, and Ottumwa firefighters are again collecting toys for children.
The program began in 2011 and has gained momentum over the years. More sponsors and donations have allowed the department to give a brighter holiday season to more children. In 2018, the numbers topped 300 families and 900 children, and the department is hoping to reach even more this year.
In January, Assistant Chief Mike Craff said Sparky Claus began when firefighters visited area schools. They saw some children who didn’t have warm coats, leading them to begin looking at how they could help. The focus expanded to include toys, and sponsors came on board to lend a hand as well.
The program has become an established part of the Ottumwa holidays. Residents know to watch for the Sparky Claus trees, and some corporations have begun adopting large numbers of children for the program.
Trees are located at Fareway, both the north and south Hy-Vee stores, Community 1st Credit Union and Finders Keepers. The trees have envelopes donors can take to adopt a family, along with information about ages and gender, clothing sizes and what the children like. Items purchased from the trees can be brought to the central fire station at 201 N. Wapello St.
New, unwrapped toys may be donated at the station as well, and the department has several other sites helping with those collections: O’Hara True Value, Pizza Hut Wing Street, Dollar General, Iowa School of Beauty, River Community Credit Union and the Local 74 union hall.
Monetary donations are tax-deductible and may be mailed to the central fire station or dropped off there. Checks should be made out to Sparky Claus, Inc.