Christmas C.A.R.O.L.ers

Emergency personnel from Camas, Washougal and ECFR support holiday food program

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The Camas Fire Department's Grass Valley fire station was bustling Wednesday as employees from the CFD, as well as the Washougal Fire Department, East County Fire and Rescue, and the local community helped finish boxing up food and toys that were delivered later that day. Through the Christmas Activities Relief Organization Limited program, area fire departments have been reaching out to local families in need for more than 50 years.

Firefighters and paramedics make their livings in a profession that has them coming to the aid of people who are facing some of the most difficult events of their lives. In helping victims of house fires, car wrecks and other crisis situations, these men and women have seen it all.

And in Camas and Washougal, each year during the holiday season these same emergency personnel further extend that helping hand to assist in a very different way.

Through the Christmas Activities Relief Organization Limited, for more than 50 years local emergency workers have been collecting, boxing up and delivering food and toys to brighten local families’ holidays.

Camas Fire Captain Brooks Cooper has been among those leading the effort for the past 26 years.

“Brooks has got it down to a science,” complimented Camas Fire Chief Leo Leon, as he scanned Grass Valley fire station’s truck bay last Wednesday, just before Christmas. The area that normally holds fire engines and ambulances was stacked with hundreds of boxes of food and toys — all organized and ready for delivery. In assembly-line fashion, volunteers from the CFD, Washougal Fire Department, East County Fire and Rescue and the general community were working to fill the last few boxes. Deliveries were scheduled for later that day.

Up until recently, C.A.R.O.L. assistance strictly went to Camas families in need. That support was expanded to include Washougal in 2009.

“We had to turn people away this year,” said Cooper, who begins the process of organizing for the annual project months in advance. “This was the first time we had to do that.”

This year C.A.R.O.L. provided assistance to 150 Camas-Washougal families with a total of 349 kids — the most in the program’s history. This number reflects an increase from 141 families last year.

Names of families in need are submitted to the CFD. Those selected to participate each receive four boxes that include canned and dry goods, fruit, potatoes, a 12-pound turkey, butter, milk and bread. Two additional boxes are filled with toys that are age appropriate for the children in the home. Any unused items are contributed to the Inter-Faith Treasure House and the Children’s Home Society in Washougal.

Donations supporting the program come from a variety of sources, including the massive “Stuff the Bus” event. In its third year, the drive organized and supported by the Camas-Washougal Business Alliance and the Camas and Washougal school districts brought in 71,000 pounds of food and toys. A portion of which was contributed to the C.A.R.O.L. program.

Donations also come in from individuals and families, as well as businesses and non-profit organizations looking to help.

“We’re the ones who distribute it, but we get help from a lot of different sources,” Leon said. “We try to match what people give us with what people need. It works out pretty good.”

He described one local family who stopped by the Grass Valley station with a 6 by 10 foot Ryder moving truck brimming with toys.

“And that’s just from one family,” Leon explained. “They said they are already planning next year.”