The first clue something was happening was the blaring fire engine sirens. Slowly the children living at The National Center for Children and Families’ (NCCF) Greentree Shelter began to gather on the front steps. And then they saw him!
At the driveway entrance, perched atop a fire engine blaring Christmas music, was Santa Claus waving to them. As the fire engine – followed by a second fire engine, fire department SUVs and a big trailer — wound its way around to the shelter ‘s front door, the kids starting jumping up and down and waving back to Santa. The annual Christmas Eve visit by the Cabin John Volunteer Fire Department was underway.
As Santa climbed down from the engine, more than 20 firefighters and their family members began unloading the trailer, which was filled with box after box brimming with presents. The children clamored down the steps to hug Santa, but one little girl hid on the porch behind her mother crying. Santa motioned to her to come to him and after a big hug from him, the tears stopped.
Then Santa headed inside to hand out the presents, which had been collected by the fire department from the 20 neighborhoods it serves. Several weeks before Christmas, the department fire engines rolled through communities sirens blaring, collecting toys from the residents. Then two nights before Christmas Eve, the volunteers and family members separated presents by sex and age and wrapped them.
While the daughter of fire department chief Corrine Piccardi passed out candy canes, the children gathered on the floor at Santa’s feet. Then fire department volunteer Andreas Ferrari called out each child’s name, and hoisted the little one onto Santa’s lap as the chief’s daughter handed Santa a present designated for that child. And then Ferrari shouted out “big smile” before a picture was taken of each child while sitting on Santa’s lap. One little girl sat on his lap just staring into his eyes, transfixed, but when one 15-year-old boy was called up, he indicated he was too old for a picture with Santa.
After each child received a present, some of which were larger than the child, it started all over again. Multiple presents were handed out to each child, who usually opened one and then took the others to a parent to save for Christmas morning. After several trips up to Santa to collect a present, even the 15-year-old couldn’t resist a picture. As the parents and staff clapped, he leaned down next Santa as a photo was snapped.
The smiles on the parents’ faces were as big as those on the kids. One parent, who was on her way to church with her children in the morning until shelter staff urged her to delay for a little while, said the number of presents was “unexpected. It is so nice,” she said. And another father looking out as the scene said he was “so thankful for this.”
The visit by the Cabin John firefighters is an annual affair and many of the firefighters came in on their own time for the event. Volunteer Bob McDonald said Scott Stone, who plays Santa, has been doing it for decades. “He can’t wait for this time of year. He enjoys it as much as the kids,” McDonald said.
And Ferrari who has come five times and has also volunteered at a nursery school, seemed the perfect person to call out the names and get the kids on Santa’s lap. He is studying medicine in the Czech Republic and considering a pediatrics specialty. “The kids are our future,” he said. Looking out at the excited children he noted: “This is what Christmas is all about – them.”
After the children shouted thank you to Santa and got in one last hug with him, it was time for the children and parents to gather up all the presents and take them downstairs. The firefighters cleaned up all the wrapping paper and headed back outside with Santa. Suddenly all the children bounded out the front door again to wave goodbye to him.
And that little girl who was crying as Santa drove up? She stayed inside but peaked around the front door and waved goodbye to Santa with a big smile on her face.