For the first time since it started back in1967, the Calgary Firefighters Toy Association has cancelled its annual Christmas party.
Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, organizers were forced to make the difficult decision to cancel the event, which has been held at the Stampede Corral every year.
The volunteer-led organization annually collected toy donations for over 4,000 kids in need. Families would be invited to the party based on suggestions from social agencies and Calgary school boards.
“To actually make that call to families and to the association and to the volunteers — to say it was emotional was an understatement,” Calgary Firefighters Toy Association president Mark Hagel said.
“This event, potentially, could be all that is underneath the trees for some of these kids at our party.”
Hagel said he’s concerned about the children who won’t be getting the gifts this year and the families that will be missing out on an afternoon of fun.
“It’s almost an indescribable feeling to be part of something that’s bigger than you at Christmas time. And to just be a part of peoples’ lives at that time and just to give them a little bit of joy and just forget about their regular lives for just an hour or two,” he said.
Hagel said volunteers did everything they could to try to make the party work, but the safety of everyone involved had to come first.
“The volunteers that do this event have been absolutely incredible. My phone has been blowing up with ideas — outpourings from folks who would normally volunteer with this party: ‘How can we get this party happening? How can we get gifts to the kids?’ And to me that means this event means a lot to a lot of people,” Hagel said.
The annual party is organized by members of the Calgary Fire Department and features a holiday lunch, live entertainment and a visit from Santa, who arrives in an antique fire truck.
Hagel said volunteers are now putting all their effort into next year’s party and are seeking donations.
“I still want people to know that donating to this year‘s toy drive is incredibly important for either this year or moving forward to next year,” Hagel said.
The celebration includes Calgary firefighters, including retirees, who volunteer their time to organize the party and to gather the donated gifts.
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