LHFD Toy Drive: Fill a Fire Truck returns Saturday

Board games, stuffed animals, action figures — these are gifts children all around the state will be unwrapping on Christmas morning this year.

Individually, they’re small tokens of affection and generosity; together, they’re big enough to fill an entire fire truck — and make a difference in a young kid’s life.

That’s why the Long Hill Fire Department wants residents to donate toys during its annual Fill a Fire Truck Toy Drive collection from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 5.

“We get a wide variety of stuff every year and it all goes to Trumbull Social Services,” said Capt. Justin Leka, who’s helped organize the event for more than a decade. “Any excess toys — toys they don’t have room for over there — go to the toy closet at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital.”

The toy drive, which will take place at the department’s Station No. 3 on 4229 Madison Avenue located north of the Trumbull mall, allows members of the community to give back to those in need who may be living right around the corner, Leka said.

“It’s good to help those in town and give back to those in this community who aren’t as fortunate,” he added. “There are families in Trumbull who need assistance, and we shouldn’t forget about them — we should remember them and take care of them first.”

In addition to dropping off new, unwrapped toys at the station, participants may visit local firefighters, see the famous decorated fire truck, take part in raffles, and have photos taken with Santa.

With 300 to 400 people expected to come in and out of the department Saturday, the captain said that it’s tough to fill the truck with so much going on. That’s why members stash all the toys in a trailer behind the building before loading the truck once the collection period is over.

“It’s a process,” he explained. “We go through it as it comes in, but then there’s bringing it back to the trailer and then out of the trailer into the truck and out of the truck and into Social Services.”

The decorated fire truck is tentatively scheduled to leave the firehouse and drop off the gifts Monday, Dec. 14.

New partners, more toys

Last year, the gift of giving continued well after the drive had closed.

“We needed to use a truck and a mini trailer to transport it all,” said Leka, who estimated that more than 2,000 toys were collected. “People dropped off toys after we had already donated our haul to Social Services — we still have some of those toys in the department, and they’ll be sent there with this year’s toys.”

While the community’s generosity played a crucial role, 2014 was a noteworthy year because members of the department enlisted help from students from the Discovery Interdistrict Magnet School in Bridgeport and Sacred Heart University in Trumbull.

The outside help brought an uptick in donated toys after three to four years of a steady decline in the collection.

“We began accepting outside donations last year, and because we were able to reach out, we got a huge spike,” Leka said. “We were in steep decline there and we really wanted to find a way to get the numbers back up.”

He added that fraternity and sorority members from Sacred Heart collected money on campus and bought toys to donate to the drive.

In addition to those outside of town, the department and its members are making it easier for residents who can’t attend the festivities Saturday to donate in drop boxes around town.

“There are six or seven drop boxes around town,” Leka said. “There are some at businesses, some at schools, and there are a few churches that have allowed us to leave a box for collections.”

Specifically, there are drop boxes at the library, the Starbucks in Trumbull Center, Bank of America on Main Street, and People’s Bank on Quality Street.

“We’re hoping for another large turnout this year, and I think having branched out last year will go a long way,” he said.

 Taking pride

While there’s no new strategy or approach to increase the number of toys donated to the drive this year, Leka said, the real motor to the event’s success has been the department’s members.

“What keeps it going, more or less, is our membership wanting to help out,” he said. “They thrive on helping others — they thrive being around other people.

“They take a lot of pride in doing this every year, and I think that’s what has kept the drive around for so long.”