By Robin Epley
The Chico Enterprise-Record
CHICO, Calif. — Hundreds of children in Chico were surprised by a personal visit from Santa on Saturday, when he came rolling up to their homes in a fire truck and distributed toys courtesy of the Chico Fire Department and several local sponsors.
The children, whose families were recommended by local social service groups, were able to have a much jollier Christmas this year because of donations made by the community and by local stores like the Dollar Tree, Walmart, Craig Hall Student Living and Lowe's, among many others.
This is the 16th year of the Adopt-A-Family program, said Fire Inspector Marie Fickert. "We (the fire department) are the entity that organizes it but we don't have the ability to adopt all of these children. It costs a lot of money to buy all of these toys."
In addition to donating toys, local radio station Mix 95.1 donated $1,000 of radio promotion time, and each family received a "safety stocking," with a smoke alarm donated by Lowe's, and batteries donated from BatteriesPlus.
Firefighters delivered toys in their response area, in case they needed to be called away. Santa accompanied each group of firefighters on their trips, and even children who were not on Santa's list were given a stuffed animal, a new ball or a coloring book and crayons.
Servpro of Chico/Lake Almanor donated several employees and toy barrels to the cause. The company's Business Development representative Lauren Hile and owner William Jones traveled to several homes with Fickert's 1949 LaFrance antique fire engine. Santa, of course, rode in front and waved to all the children peeking out of the curtains at the procession of cars laden with presents.
Their first stop was at the Martinez home, where Jose and Silvia Martinez and their four children, Yanet, Magdalena, Guadalupe and Jose, all received several presents from Santa, and even got to sit on his lap. Mom and dad, like every family on the list, were given several bags of groceries, including a turkey for Christmas dinner.
Silvia Martinez, through a translator, said, "Since they are still young they get very emotional because they still believe."
Martinez said it has been very hard for the family because they are single-income. She called the program "excruciatingly helpful, having four children in these economic times" and thanked the program for helping continue the illusion of Santa Claus for her children.
Sonia Centeno, a neighbor of the Martinez family, has three children of her own who were also visited by Santa.
Giovany, 9, Pedro Ivan, 5, and Ashley, 2, were shy at first but warmed up to the man in the big red suit after he passed out candy canes.
"They can't believe it," Centeno said. "It's the best day; they've been looking outside the window (hoping he'd come). I kept it a secret."
She said she was very thankful for the program because "It's been a rough time, especially this year."
The applications for this year's Adopt-A-Family program have been closed, but Fickert said she wanted to extend a big thank-you to Craig Hall Student Living who donated a large amount of money, and also to employees of the Dollar Tree who donated money, time and gifts.
All of the Starbucks coffee shops in Chico hosted toy and food barrels, and Giving Trees were placed in Azad's Martial Arts Studio as well as in the Chico Walmart.
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