City fire department’s Christmas charity still spreading joy to families


 

 

robin kuniski/for metro calgary

 

Kelly Sherstabetoff, 5, gives Santa a huge hug after waiting a few hours to see him and thank him for the gift she received from his helpers. Kelly, along with hundreds of other kids, had a chance to celebrate the Calgary Fire Department Toy Association's 40th Annual Christmas Party yesterday at the Stampede Corral.






"It’s just a perfect party for so many kids."






Rosemary Johnson remembers the first year the Calgary Fire Department hosted a party to offer gifts and holiday cheer to families in need.





“We weren’t sure that anyone would come,” says the 73-year-old, who is married to retired firefighter, Jack Johnson.





Rosemary says she was shocked when 1,800 children and parents showed up. That was 1967, and the annual event has since become a holiday tradition for both the Johnson family and the Calgary community.





The 40th edition of the CFD Toy Association’s annual event packed nearly 5,000 into the Stampede Corral yesterday afternoon for festivities, food and family entertainment, including a live dog show.





Santa rolled in after 1 p.m. on an antique fire truck and with help from volunteers, he handed out gifts to thousands of excited children.





The city’s school boards help the fire department choose families to invite those who might not be able to afford gifts or a Christmas tree. Firefighters and their families raise money to buy gifts for children under 12 and host the party.





Firefighter Shane Sealock said a story from another long-standing member inspired him to become president of the Calgary Fire Department Toy Association.





“He went to a house on a medical call and the tree they had came from us. Every present under the tree was from this event,” recalled Sealock. “It gave me shivers to think about that.”





As the event has grown over the past four decades, Rosemary Johnson has watched the crowd diversify along with Calgary as a community.





“I’m happy to be here with my family,” said one man, originally from Jamaica.





“It’s just a perfect party for so many kids,” says Johnson, who came without her husband for the first time ever. He now lives in a full-time care facility and she said it was hard to be at this year’s event without him. But Johnson was proud her granddaughter was there to volunteer.





“It’s come full circle,” said Johnson.