COMMERCE— ‘Twas the week before Christmas and all through the Commerce Fire Department, the community was working together to give families an unforgettable night.
The Commerce Fire Department, Police Department and a local biker group called the Brothers-in-Law (BIL) team up every year to provide food and toys to families and children in the community.
“The Brothers-in-Law have a toy drive and that’s how they raise money to help buy toys and food,” Commerce Police Chief Ray Horn said. “The fire department saves up money and everyone pitches in together.”
The groups have carried on this Christmas tradition for over two dozen years.
“I think it’s important for community agencies- fire departments, police departments and the city- to be supportive of the community because that’s who we serve,” Commerce Deputy Fire Chief Kyle Arnall said. “We want to serve the community, not just by fires or law enforcement calls, but we want to be there for the community to support people in need. The Brothers-in-Law play a large role. It’s a collaborative effort and there is a lot of people involved.”
The fire department collected the names of the individuals and families who signed up to receive the baskets. Papers with names, ages and gender of the children were placed in a box of toys and food.
Janet Trease, the fire department’s secretary and treasurer, has been helping out with the Christmas basket program for 11 years.
“I usually end up buying the gifts and I enjoy doing it,” Trease said. “My daughter and I usually go together and buy the gifts for the children every year. I’ve been taking her with me since she was young girl and she will be 23 soon. She used to go when I delivered them, which is very eye opening.
Trease said this year they will deliver baskets to 29 families and 26 of those families have children.
“It’s rewarding and frustrating because I would love to do two times the amount that we do, but the funds are always limited,” Trease said. “I’m very thankful for the Brothers-in-Law because they contribute a lot. They have a toy run. They spend almost $3,000 on toys while we spend about $1,000.”
The Brothers-in-Law spent thousands of dollars to purchase food and toys at the local Walmart in Miami. The bikers backed up truck loads of food into the Commerce Fire Department, which was then unloaded and sorted. Volunteers, bikers and city officials worked together in compiling the food baskets packed full of the Christmas dinner essentials.
“We’ll have a chicken, a ham, bread and milk,” president of Brothers-in-Law Rick Osborne said. “Chuck Stotts at Walmart helps a lot with it and gathers it up. We’ll have everything that it takes to make a great Christmas dinner for them.”
The Brothers-in-Law helped raise a majority of the money for the food and toys, raising approximately $5,000 this year at their annual toy run.
The group of local bikers have planned for this event all year and have been contributing to the program for 16 years. Last year, the bikers purchased 22 bicycles for children.
Osborne joined the BIL group in 2004 and has been involved with the Christmas baskets every year.
Osborn said there is no feeling like giving to a family in need.
“When you deliver these baskets to a single mom who has three kids and wouldn’t have a Christmas otherwise, it really makes you feel good,” Osborne said. “It’s a lot of fun and there’s a lot of satisfaction from it.”
Commerce High School’s Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) had a school-wide canned food drive to help raise food for the Christmas baskets.
Trease said the amount of food the school raised filled up the entire flat bed of her truck.
“We got a truck load of canned goods,” Trease said. “The families are going to get more than what the baskets usually have. It was nice because they contributed and they’ve helped contribute for two years.”
After the food and toy baskets were assembled, the three agencies delivered the food on Dec. 17.
“The bikers, police and firefighters will grab a sheet of names, a basket and deliver it to the house,” Horn said.
The baskets were hand delivered to the family's’ front door.
“This is a gift from the Commerce Police and Fire Department and Brothers-in-Law,” Commerce Animal Control Code Enforcement Officer Al Cervantes said handing a woman a box of food. “The kids aren’t home are they? I have a big box of toys in the back.”
Looks of astonishment and gratitude struck the individuals faces after they opened the door.
“Thank you so much,” one woman said tearing up.
Trease said that delivering the food can be an emotional process, but it is all worth it in the end.
“It makes you realize what you have and puts it in perspective for you,” Trease said. “The most rewarding thing is knowing that you’re giving someone something who doesn’t have anything. You don’t realize how much you have until you see someone who has nothing.”
Kimberly W. Barker is a staff writer for the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @MiamiNews_hound.