HARLINGEN — Miranda’s face lit up as the firefighter approached her with an armful of stuffed animals.
She quickly pointed, and Lt. Joey Ruedas of the Harlingen Fire Department placed a stuffed dog with floppy ears and red ribbon into the youngster’s grateful hands.
The Harlingen Fire Department brought Christmas early to Miranda Huerta, 8, her mother Linda and two siblings Saturday. Two fire trucks showed up in front of her apartment. A light drizzle fell through the chill morning but that did not stop firefighters from helping the Huerta family Christmas.
They bailed out of the trucks and cars and climbed briskly up the stairs with red bags bulging with wrapped presents and stuffed animals.
It was part of the Harlingen Professional Fire Fighters Association’s Hearts of Fire campaign to bring Christmas to those facing an otherwise sparse holiday season.
“This is our first day delivering,” Ruedas said excitedly, and then explained they would make more deliveries Sunday and Monday. In all, the Hearts of Fire project planned to help seven families with about 25 children. PetSmart had donated about 400 stuffed animals. H-E-B also contributed to the effort.
It showed as the firefighters filled the small apartment and set boxes of stuffing, canned corn, green beans and soup on the table, plus pies and Cool Whip. And, last but not least, a frozen turkey.
“It’s amazing,” said Linda Huerta, dressed in jeans and a blue top.
A Christmas tree decorated with red poinsettias stood in the corner and her three children sat on a beige sofa.
“I feel great that they came by here and gave gifts and my kids appreciate it,” she said.
But, she’s learned to take things in stride. She spoke as one clearly aware of realities and how to handle them. What if the firefighters hadn’t come to her home?
“It would be OK; we’d survive,” she said with conviction. “It’s surprising that they came and helped out. I’m happy they did something like that.”
Son Isaac, 17, expressed a similar sense of acceptance, of gratitude for what he has. He would take whatever Christmas he had, regardless of what the firefighters did — or had not done.
“I didn’t really expect anything,” he said. “I was just feeling, ‘as long as I’m with family.’”
But … “I feel thankful,” he said. “I am glad they came by and did this for us.”
The firefighters had joyously handed out the presents, and the holiday cheer showed in their faces.
“It feels great to be able to give back to the community,” said Lily Nacianceno.
Kenneth Fuller, a driver for the fire department, has participated in this event in previous years.
“I like giving back, especially during the holiday season when people are less fortunate,” he said.
The firefighters who delivered presents to families Saturday continued to do so on Monday, with fire engine sirens used to surprise children.
First, they did a stop at Sundance Apartments and surprised one lucky family with presents and a Christmas meal.
Although they only had gifts ready for seven families, there were many stuffed animals left over. They decided to see if any neighboring children would come out and get a new furry companion.
Irma Salazar, 31, was not one of the families visited, but her kids were still able to receive a present.
“We didn’t know they were doing this today. It is really good, they were happy to get presents,” Salazar said.
After their visit at Sundance Apartments, the firefighters made their way to another apartment complex to surprise a family there with a Christmas meal and presents.
Erika Chavez, 41, is the mother of seven children, who were all surprised by the firefighters.
Chavez said she had just recently lost her wallet and was currently unemployed.
“I was praying to God, and I didn’t know what to do. They called me to tell me they were doing this for us, and I thought God does hear your prayers sometimes,” she said.
Jonathan, 4, and Danielle, 5, were excited to welcome Lt. Ruedas and his crew. Danielle received a Frozen Lego set among other presents she excitedly unwrapped.
One final stop was made to the home of Valerie Martinez, 29, the mother of five.
Inside her house, the walls were decorated with firefighter helmets. Coincidentally, the kids’ grandmother is a retired firefighter from Houston.
Robert, 11, received a basketball and a Nerf gun. He said he had wanted it for a while and was excited as a smile spread on his face.
“I am so blessed and thankful for them to do that. Especially since we have a firefighter in our family,” Martinez said.
“I just want to say thank you for the community and the fire department for doing this,” she said.