Beach firefighting elves need help to take Christmas to needy kids
On Fort Myers Beach, Santa makes his rounds by fire truck rather than by sled, and his trusty guide is a 6-foot, 4-inch firefighter paramedic.
“I call myself Rudolph because I lead the way,” said Troy Mesick of the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District. “I’m too big to be an elf, so I do the organization of the delivery route and make sure we pull the right toys for the right house. I’m in a pickup truck with a whole bunch of toys, and I bring the engine to the proper address so they follow me.”
The firefighters play Santa as part of Spirit of the Holidays, a beach tradition of more than two decades, benefiting children from underprivileged families. The tradition is now being organized by the Beach Kids Foundation, an nonprofit dedicated to providing support for the Fort Myers Beach Elementary School, its teachers and its students.
This week, the foundation will hold two benefits to raise funds for Santa’s annual fire truck toy run.
• The first will be a dinner auction on Tuesday, Dec. 8, at the Sunset Beach Tropical Grill;
• The second will be the firefighters' flapjack breakfast on Saturday, Dec. 12.
Both fundraisers take place outside of the hours of the Fort Myers Beach road construction project, so traffic should be flowing steadily. Beach businesses are running toy-donation drives as part of Spirit of the Holidays.
“Right now we have 111 kids with applications that we’re trying to complete, and we’ve got kids that the only thing they’re asking for is a bed,” said Fran Myers, chair of the Beach Kids Foundation and owner of Red Coconut RV Park. “I think people believe that everybody who lives at Fort Myers Beach has lots of money, but that is not the case. We have a lot of single families, we have a lot of service workers and we have a lot of families out here who still need a lot of help.”
Underprivileged families that are part of the beach community may apply with their children’s Christmas wish list. The beach community includes families that live on the island as well as the families of employees who work at Fort Myers Beach businesses but live off-island.
Myers said that local businesses and hotels have responded generously with donations of items for the auction, so now the success of the fundraiser will rely upon the number of people who attend the dinner event. She said that the organization has sold only half of the tickets for the evening fundraiser. The money is used to purchase the childrens’ wished-for items that weren’t donated in the toy drive.
“We’re going to try to spend $150 on each child, but it really depends on how successful this auction is,” Myers said.
The foundation is also running low this year for donations of a specific item that many beach kids wish for — bicycles.
“Our guy who did our bikes for us every year had to close his business, so right now we have about 10 bikes but we need 30,” she said.
Donated bicycles need either to be new or, if a bike is used, it needs to be in like-new condition. The foundation has a crew of handy elves who have the time and space for new bikes that arrive in boxes.
“A big thing for us is always the bicycles,” Mesick said. “We set up a little Santa’s workshop at the fire department putting together bikes.”
The firefighters further their share of the fundraising effort with their Saturday morning freewill donation flapjack breakfast. Nearly all of the supplies for the breakfast are donated, so the proceeds can go straight into Spirit of the Holidays.
The firefighters cook and serve the pancake and sausage breakfast, assisted by the K-Kids (Kiwanis youth club) from the beach school. They also have an elfish tradition that borders on the mischievous.
“We like to bring out our new guys— the probationary hires — and it’s kind of a tradition that they sing a Christmas song,” Mesick said. “When I was hired at the Beach Fire Department 10 years ago, I had to do it, so it’s a tradition and we make the new guys sing.”
Once all of the wish-list items are collected or purchased, volunteers sort and organize the items for the gift-wrapping party. Myers said every family is assigned a number so that their privacy is protected.
Finally, the firefighters bag the wrapped gifts, Mesick arranges the delivery route for the recipients who live in the fire district, and the personnel riding the fire engine don their elf uniforms. Santa’s toy deliveries are dramatic, but they have created a unique problem.
“It’s really heartwarming when they turn on those lights and sirens,” Myers said. “But as it’s come down all these years, they have to carry extra toys on the truck because the neighborhood kids follow the trucks down the street and sometimes they don’t understand why the other child is getting all of that stuff and they aren’t. So they’ve started carrying extra toys on the trucks so Santa can give them stuff, too.”
Mesick said when he started with the department, they made 10 delivery stops, but in recent years, the need has grown to where the route has nearly 25 stops. This is why the Beach Kids Foundation needs a tremendous turnout of generous patrons at both of its fundraisers.
“When we pull up as Santa and the elves and they see their bicycles rolling off the truck with bows on them, just the look on their faces makes Spirit of the Holidays what it’s supposed to be,” Mesick said, “but it’s driven by the residents of Fort Myers Beach.
Without them, it wouldn’t be possible to do the toy drive, so it’s really a whole community outreach,” he said. We’re just lucky enough at the fire department to be involved in delivering the toys and putting the smiles on the kids’ faces.”
Connect with this writer: @Laura TichySmith (Twitter)
If you go
Spirit of the Holidays Dinner Auction
When: 5-8 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 8
Where: Sunset Beach Tropical Grill, 1028 Estero Blvd., Fort Myers Beach
Tickets: Pre-purchase tickets available at Red Coconut RV Park, 3001 Estero Blvd. or Tri-Power Vacation Rentals, 2001 Estero Blvd., Fort Myers Beach
Info: 463-7200; beachkidsfoundation.org
Spirit of the Holidays Pancake Breakfast
When: 7-11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 12
Where: Red Coconut RV Park Clubhouse, 3001 Estero Blvd., Fort Myers Beach
Cost: Freewill donation
Info: 463-7200; beachkidsfoundation.org