SunHerald.com - November 04, 2012by DONNA HARRIS
Firefighters from New York City who have brought toys to Coast children since Hurricane Katrina have been forced to cancel their Christmas run this year so they can concentrate their efforts in their home state. "Everyone feels an extreme sadness that the underprivileged children we have assisted since 2005 will have to face the holiday season without our toy-drive effort," said retired firefighter Tom O'Connor, who helped organize the drive each year. "I am sure that the slack will be picked up by someone on a local level."
More than 2,000 current and retired FDNY firefighters have either lost their homes or sustained major damage to them, he said.
The group of about 30 firefighters was on schedule to arrive in South Mississippi on Dec. 6 with several loaded moving trucks filled with toys for thousands of Coast children.
The firefighters usually make the rounds for a few days, dropping off toys and visiting with the youngsters in Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties.
It had become a tradition since they first came to the Gulf Coast with cleaning supplies and food immediately after Katrina devastated the Coast and saw a need for Christmas presents for the children.
They made a return trip before Christmas in 2005 and have been returning each year since.
Then Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast in late October and changed their 2012 plans.
"Hurricane Sandy has decimated most of the New York area where our heroic firemen live and work," said Charles Green of Pensacola, a Coast native who has organized the firefighters' trips to Mobile and South Mississippi. "They will be devoting their time and efforts this year in assisting their fellow New York and New Jersey friends and neighbors during this horrific time."
Green said donations to help the FDNY crews can be made through the Stephen Siller (FDNY) Foundation, 2361 Hylan Blvd., Staten Island, NY 10306.
The Stephen Siller Foundation played a large part in the toy donations that made the yearly trips possible, he said.
Volunteers from the Junior Auxiliary of Biloxi-Ocean Springs helped sort the toys for distribution when the firefighters unloaded the trucks at the Biloxi drop-off.
President Jessica Dukes said the organization has been grateful each year for the continued generosity the New York firefighters brought to the Coast children at Christmas.
"We are deeply saddened to hear of the tremendous loss they have suffered due to Hurricane Sandy, and are committed to help the firemen and their families get back on their feet in any way that we can," she said.