Anaheim Fire & Rescue collects gifts for underprivileged children at Spark of Love Toy Drive

By Daniel Langhorne

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Anaheim firefighters, cadets, and explorers manned toy donation boxes at local Walmart stores to support the kick-off event for the annual Spark of Love Toy Drive that provides Christmas presents to underprivileged children in Southern California.

Shoppers contributed foam building blocks, a football, stuffed animals, a magnetic drawing board, a Mr. Potato Head, and many other gifts to bring holiday cheer to children who would not have gifts otherwise.

Capt. Robert Aguilar was one of the firefighters on hand to help hand out plastic fire helmets and firefighter badge stickers to children who stopped by to donate toys or just take a picture with the fire apparatus parked outside the Walmart.

“The parents are teaching them that there are people that have less than you and it’s good to give,” Aguilar said.

Anaheim Fire & Rescue Cadet Justin Collins places an Anaheim fire hat on a smiling Zackary Rivera, 4, of Anaheim during the Spark of Love kickoff at Walmart in Anaheim.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

As a father himself, Aguilar hopes his participation in Spark of Love, however small, may help bring joy on Christmas Day to a girl or boy in need. After participating in Spark of Love for years, Aguilar said he’s still impressed with the public’s generosity. Over the years he’s seen donors contribute everything from tricycles to ten-speed road bikes and beach cruisers.

“Even though I’m not the one dropping off the toys, if being here helps one kid, I’m for it,” he said.

During the month of December, the public is invited to drop off new, unwrapped toys at any fire station in Orange County. The Orange County Toy Collaborative picks up donated toys from fire stations, transports them to a warehouse in Irvine, and then distributes them to local nonprofits. It’s these community nonprofits that identify families that qualify because their income is below the state and federal poverty line.

While the fire department was posing for a group photo, 4-year-old Dillon Lao of Irvine walks up and donates a toy to the Spark of Love toy drive booth.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

With the Spark of Love kick-off event following the Woosley and Hill fires in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, Walmart decided to combine the event with a Firefighter Appreciation Day.

“Walmart proudly increased their support of the Spark of Love this year by becoming a presenting sponsor of the toy drive,” Walmart spokeswoman Tiffany Wilson said. “Instead of canceling the event, we knew that this was an opportunity to step up and support our firefighters even more.”

Walmart shoppers were invited to express their thankfulness on a banner emblazoned with “Thank You Firefighters” for putting themselves in danger to protect people’s lives and homes.

Ana Garcia takes a family photo with Anaheim Fire & Rescue Firefighter Alex Pinel and her three nephews, Anthony Perez, 3, Andrew Perez, 3, and Julian Perez, 5, right, of Riverside, at a Spark of Love booth in front of Walmart.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Jessica James of Anaheim showed up to the toy drive in Anaheim with her three dogs to drop off toys, as she does every year. She hopes that when a child opens their gift on Christmas morning they will know that someone cares about them and they’re not alone.

“This was something for me to give back to the community right before the holidays, especially with everyone losing their family members and homes in the fires,” James said.

The thought that a child would have to celebrate Christmas without toys motivated Sandra Gonzalez of Anaheim to turn out for Spark of Love’s kickoff.

“I hope they feel joy, happiness and that someone is thinking of them,” Gonzalez said.

Ruby Moreno, 3, of Anaheim receives an Anaheim fire hat from Firefighter Alex Pinel as her father, Wilfred Moreno, takes her to Walmart past the Spark of Love booth.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Fire Inspector Alicia Badosa hands out hats and badge stickers to Abigail Varner and her sister Adelynn Varner, right, during Anaheim Fire & Rescue’s Spark of Love toy drive kickoff.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

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