This marks the third year the SCFD has undertaken the arduous task of providing children in the protective custody of the Spalding County Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) with reason to smile Christmas morning.
“It’s just a wonderful thing. This is something our guys decided they wanted to do for these children,” SCFD Chief Chipper Gardner said.
An annual golf tournament -- the sole fund-raising effort for the Christmas shopping spree -- this year raised more than $8,000, which was utilized to provide gifts for 130 children.
“They came up with the idea of the golf tournament and everyone loved it,” Gardner said. “Without the support of the businesses and individuals in the community, the people who participate in the golf tournament, this wouldn’t have been possible.”
As for the impact this has on the recipients, the answer is clear.
“It means the world to us. It’s how they get their Christmas,” said Jennifer Cannon, a Spalding County DFCS program associate. “We have a couple of different sponsors, but the Spalding County Fire Department supports the majority of our children. They do the bulk of it.”
Once the money has been raised and the wish lists are written by the children, the real work of playing Santa’s elves begins with an hours-long shopping trip.
Wal-Mart was the scene of this recent shopping blitz, as SCFD personnel, as well as employees of Spalding County DFCS, descended on the local store, purchasing hundreds of gifts.
Dozens of shopping carts overflowed with gifts such as dolls, cars, sporting equipment, makeup, jewelry, games and electronics, all of which will put smiles on the faces of children away from their families and homes this Christmas.
In addition to the money raised in the golf tournament, the SCFD had additional funds available this year -- a $1,000 grant provided by Wal-Mart.
“Wal-Mart believes in giving back to the community. We have several nonprofits in the area we give grants to so that they can help the community,” Wal-Mart manager Scott Owen said. “The Fire Department approached me and requested a grant and when I found out what they were going to do with it, I increased it to the maximum, which is $1,000.”
Of his participation in the holiday effort, Owen said, “It’s a heart-warming feeling. I mean, Christmas is all about giving thanks and being appreciative. It’s really great. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in some of the homes. I know it’s really going to help a lot of children have a great Christmas.”
Gardner believes this annual holiday tradition for the SCFD is representative of the community in which he serves.
“This is one of the great things about the Griffin and Spalding County community,” he said. “I’m involved with the United Way and a lot of other things and it doesn’t matter what your station in life, people are always wanting to help other people out.”
Joseph Walker, director of Spalding County DFCS, also spoke of community, saying, “This is a wonderful thing for them to do for us. These are Spalding County’s children.”
Gardner, while grateful for the encouragement offered by the public, spoke specifically about his SCFD employees, saying, “I am so proud of my personnel for coming up with the idea -- I just let them do it.”
“This isn’t something the chief came up with that they had to do,” he said. “This is something the guys came up with. They said, ‘Hey, we want to help these kids out.’ These kids haven’t had a great life -- life hasn’t been kind to them. They really wanted to do it for the kids.”