A Brighter Christmas: Firefighters, Camille Playhouse host toy drive

A group of fire fighters from the Brownsville Fire Department receive toys from Flora Vasquez and her family for their toy drive with Camille Playhouse Saturday in Dean Porter Park.(Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

With the lights from a ladder truck and other emergency vehicles flashing in the parking lot outside Sams Memorial Pool in Dean Porter Park, the Brownsville Fire Department and Camille Playhouse prepare to help make Christmas a little brighter for families in need in their community.

The organizations partnered up on Saturday for a toy drive event to help support the fire department’s annual Christmas at the Firehouse event. The drive-through event featured Camille Playhouse board member David Salinas in the role of Santa Claus, waving and chatting with gift givers and taking photos with anyone who wanted a picture perfect moment with Santa. Attendees were asked to bring unwrapped toys for boys and girls for a range of ages to help meet the fire department’s need for their upcoming event on September 21st.

While Christmas at the Firehouse will not be a public event as it has been in years past due to COVID-19 safety concerns, the event is still going forward to help provide gifts this year for selected families that are deeply struggling due to the pandemic.

“We had to modify a lot of things so this year we are focusing on the families that were really hit the most,” said firefighter and paramedic Diana Trevino who helped coordinate the toy drive.

This year Camille Playhouse approached the Brownsville Fire Department to see if they could help lend a hand and organize a toy drive to help meet the community demand.

“When we were thinking about our Christmas program we thought ‘well what else can we do to benefit the community’ and together we thought of this,” said David Salinas, Camille Playhouse board member.

Salinas believes that despite the strictures the pandemic has placed on everyday life, there are a few things worth making the extra effort to modify, especially during the holidays.

“Giving back to the community shouldn’t suffer and this is one way we can try to alleviate that,” Salinas said.

Fire Chief Jarrett Sheldon agrees with that sentiment.

“The celebration of Christmas toy giveaways, whether our own… or assisting with others, is a reflection of the selflessness of the men and women of the Brownsville Fire Department. COVID-19 may alter the way toys are distributed, but it will not hinder the spirit and joy of giving and witnessing how it can help lift others,” said Sheldon in a statement on Friday.

For San Benito residents Flora and Richie Vasquez that spirit of giving that the toy drive represents is a lesson they work to instill in their children, Emily and Matthew, each year during the holidays.

Every year their children work with local organizations during the holiday season as part of a family dedication to service and as a lesson to the children about helping their community.

“To make sure that they are aware of how blessed that we are and that there’s little things that we can do that can have such a big impact on others that might not be having the best Christmas especially during this year,” said Flora Vasquez.

While normally Vasquez will take her children shopping with her so they can help pick out the gifts themselves, this year they had to do their shopping for the toy drive online.

“They were looking for things that they liked and that they thought the kids would enjoy,” said Vasquez.

In total they brought around 10 gifts, including a few toy fire trucks, and stocking stuffers to help make someone’s Christmas a little more special this year.

“This is just such a time to reflect on the good things that we have and unfortunately even though there has been so much loss around us, we have to focus on the positive things and try to make it a little bit better for as many people as we can,” Vasquez said.

dcathey@brownsvilleherald.com