Santa arrives, by jet ski, to support needy kid’s toy drive

Did the bad weather keep you from donating? It’s not too late to help out the Portland Fire & Rescue Toy and Joy Makers. Find out why and how, right here …

Portland Fire & Rescue Firefighter Specialist Bruce Thompson drives the waterborne sleigh for Inspector Mike “Santa” O’Keefe.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
On the crisp, clear morning of December 4, more than one person gazing at the Willamette River from inner SE Portland was astonished to see jolly old St. Nick speeding north, from near OMSI to the fire dock under the Hawthorne Bridge, astride a powerful personal watercraft with Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) markings.

“Santa came early, on Jet-Ski,” explained, PF&R spokesman, Lt. Allen Oswalt. “Sleds don’t work well without snow; so to deliver a check to Toy-N-Joy Makers, we gave him a lift to help deliver a $2,000 check from the Fire Chief’s Association to them.”

Off they go on, on their mission to help the Toy and Joy Makers.

Started in SE Portland
While the Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) Toy and Joy Makers current facility today sits on the Gresham city borderline in outer East Portland, the program started 94 years ago in Sellwood, at the fire station now designated Station 20.

“In 1914, close to Christmastime, a child was crying, looking at his broken wagon as he stood in front of the Sellwood district fire station,” related Oswalt. “The sight touched a firefighter’s heart – he so he brought the little boy into the station, and fixed the wagon for him. That was the act that kicked off what has become the Toy and Joy Makers.”

The idea caught on, and one by one, until the early 1980s, different fire stations had different assignments – one would fix bicycles and another would refurbish wagons, explained Oswalt. The firefighters would stockpile parts, repaint broken toys, and return them to as new a condition as possible.

“Nowadays, with the addition of new equipment, there isn’t the room to for firefighters to repair broken toys,” Oswalt went on. “So, to keep the tradition alive, we ask that people donate new, unwrapped toys.”

At the PF&R dock at Station 7, Inspector Mike “Santa” O’Keefe presents a check to the bureau’s Toy and Joy Makers “head elf”, Dean Johnston.

3,000,000 toys and counting
Dean Johnston, retired firefighter, and now the “chief elf” the organization met us at Station 20, to talk about the program.

“We work with organizations to make sure the toy-giving is not duplicated by other agencies and charities – thus making the ‘joy’ go farther,” said Johnston. “With the help and support of the community, we’ll be giving away about 10,000 toys to underprivileged kids this year; we’ve distributed more than 3 million toys since we began.”

Most needed toys noted
Now that this year’s toy supply has been depleted, they’re looking to start filling their warehouse for Christmas, 2009. “There is a special need for infant toys (Fisher Price, Playskool), due to the large lead-based paint recall of toys last year,” noted Johnston.
They’re also looking for toys suitable for older girls, ages nine through 13. Suggested toys include craft kits for jewelry-making, beads, friendship bracelets, books, and games.  Please do NOT donate make-up (even “play” make-up), or clothing.

Behind the scenes: Santa gets grilled by Portland’s TV station reporters who were all respectful as they questioned jolly St. Nick.

After Christmas donations gratefully accepted
Many parents help their children learn the value of giving by having the kids help pick out toys to be donated, Oswalt commented. “If the bad weather kept you and your family from dropping off new, unwrapped toys at fire stations, consider a cash donation. Because the organization can buy toys at wholesale, it really stretches the value of monetary donations. 98% of the money given goes to toys for kids.”

Financial contributions can be made online at their website. CLICK HERE to go there right now! You’ll be glad you did — and you may get a deduction on your income taxes if you contribute before the end of the year.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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