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Kids, firefighters shop

Instead of a blue light special, children enjoyed a special event with plenty of flashing red lights at Kmart in Oak Harbor Saturday morning.

For the fourth year, the Oak Harbor Firefighters’ Association and Kmart employees teamed up to brighten the holiday season in a very unique way for two dozen kids who come from needy families. They each got to go on a $50 shopping spree with their own firefighter before hopping on Santa’s lap.

“We all got some good warm and fuzzy feelings,” said firefighter Steve McCalmont, president of the firefighters’ association. He said each year the men and women are impressed by the generosity of the grade school children who choose to spend their prize on gifts for others. Last year, a boy bought a toy and donated it to Toys for Tots. This year, one little boy picked out a plastic stirring spoon for his mother.

Mothers are apparently popular around the holidays. Ten-year-old David said he was looking for some slippers for his mom. Ten-year-old Rachel wanted to find a watch for hers. Tabitha bought presents for her mother, sister and grandmother.

“I probably would want to look for something for me last,” she said.

Santa Claus knows how to make an impressive entrance. Early in the morning, all the children waited outside the store for jolly old St. Nick. He arrived on a fire truck in a convoy of fire department vehicles, lights swirling and sirens sounding.

Before shopping, the children and firefighters enjoyed a breakfast together to get to know each other a little. Afterward, they paired up and scoured the store for the perfect items.

Kmart employees volunteered their time to wrap presents for the children. Kim Connolly, store manager, said the employees have been doing the event for about a decade, but worked with the firefighters for the last four years. She said they raised money all year long to buy each child a backpack full of surprises. This year the kids got a talking bear, coloring books, a jump rope, stickers, balloons and other toys.

Connolly said the kids are quiet and drowsy when they arrive in the morning, but they quickly wake up when Santa arrives.

“They especially love the fire engines,” she said. “The kids get so excited.”

In addition to the Kmart event — and putting out fires — McCalmont said the firefighters find other ways to help children in the holidays. In fact, this year they helped make Christmas especially memorable for 174 needy youngsters in the community.

Saturday night, Santa and firefighters in a convoy of fire trucks and an ambulance delivered presents to the homes of 17 special children in low-income housing in the area. McCalmont said they picked out items the family needs — like bedding and clothes — along with fun things.

On the same night, the firefighters and St. Nick delivered 120 teddy bears to the doors of children in the community. For the kids, the glamorous delivery was as marvelous as the gifts.

“They get so excited,” McCalmont said. “How could they not? There’s flashing lights and Santa.”

You can reach Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or 675-6611.

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