CUMBERLAND — People like Kevin Foster make the Christmas spirit infectious.
Foster was a sophomore at Greely High School in 2003 when he started the annual Firefighters for Kids toy drive. He followed that a few years later with an annual pancake breakfast to raise funds for the toy drive.
A decade later, thousands of gifts are going to children of families who can’t afford to buy toys.
The 13th annual toy drive runs until a week before Christmas. Donations can be dropped off or mailed to the Cumberland Fire Department, 366 Tuttle Road, Cumberland, ME 04021, and to Cumberland Town Hall, 290 Tuttle Road, Cumberland, ME 04021.
Firefighters for Kids, a nonprofit organization that is associated with the Cumberland Fire Department, will hold a craft fair at Greely High School Saturday, Nov. 19, to benefit both the toy drive and the school’s Special Olympics team. The event runs from 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
Santa will attend the ninth annual pancake breakfast, to be served at Greely Middle School from 7-10 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 4. The meal will include bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, home fries, coffee and juice. The event costs $8 for adults and $4 for children.
Last year’s event raised $3,600 and served 335 people, Foster, who is a Cumberland firefighter/emergency medical technician, said Nov. 10.
“Someone said we should do something for the community; ‘let’s do a small toy drive, collect some toys and donate them to Toys for Tots,'” he recalled.
Foster undertook the task. After the first few years of bringing toys to another organization, “people started applying to us for toys, and it just became our own toy drive,” he said.
After seeing one of the sports teams at his college hold a pancake breakfast, Foster thought it was “a great idea, so I started it (here).”
Those in need of help this Christmas, or know others who are, can email firstname.lastname@example.org. The organization receives request forms to find out which toys the children desire.
“No one gets turned away,” Foster said.
The organization tries to provide “at least two or three good-sized items, and then stocking stuffers,” he noted, adding that Firefighters for Kids tends to focus on family-oriented gifts like games and crafts, as well as sports equipment.
Firefighters for Kids helped 68 children in 46 families two years ago, he recalled. That number last year grew to 68 families, with 186 children.
“It was a huge jump,” Foster said. “We were able to support everyone, and had some left over to start this year.”
Seeing such a demand from communities many consider to be affluent can be surprising, he noted.
“I’ve certainly been there; I know other people who’ve been there,” Foster said. “Some years, you just can’t afford it. You want your children to believe in you and the spirit of Santa. That’s what we’re trying to keep going.”
Having watched the program grow over the years, and the greater number of kids impacted, Foster said, “It’s very, very rewarding. Stressful, but (I’m) always so happy to see the families come pick up the toys, and they’re all so excited; they go through the bags in absolute awe of what they’re getting.”
The program is not limited to local communities, and has served towns as far away as Hollis.
“Our motto is, ‘Everyone deserves a Christmas,'” Foster said.
Kevin Foster of Cumberland started the annual Firefighters for Kids toy drive while he was a sophomore at Greely High School. A few years later he started an annual pancake breakfast to raise funds for the toy drive.