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BCES donates hundreds of toys to Family Connection
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Fire Chief Freddy Howell, Family Connection Director Wendy Sims, and BCES team members Asa Clay and Robbie Jordan stand next to some of the toys collected. Asa and Robbie are two of the four BCES employees who “played Santa” this year during the neighborhood visits. Photo by Hollie Barnidge.

Throughout December, Bryan County Emergency Services continued with a 17-year-old tradition by helping Santa Claus visit various neighborhoods around the county, giving him a lift on a fire engine.

Every year, Santa makes his nightly rounds, greeting children and families, handing out candy canes, posing for photos and listening to wish list requests. In return, BCES asks that anyone who is able please donate a new, unwrapped toy to be given as a gift to a local child in need. Santa’s schedule is posted well in advance, so families know what night to expect him in their neighborhoods.

After Santa had completed his runs and all the toys were collected, BCES staff presented the impressively large donation to Bryan County Family Connection Director Wendy Sims on Monday morning. Family Connection will ensure the gifts go to families with children who otherwise might not have anything to open on Christmas morning.

During Monday’s presentation, hundreds of toys nearly covered one side of a fire engine, where they were displayed as a backdrop for the brief ceremony, while countless more burst from a 16 x 10 foot storage trailer. In all, about 1,000 cubic feet of toys were collected in the south and north ends of the county combined.

To keep the tradition alive, Bryan County Emergency Services has four Santas who take turns riding on the fire engine each night. In addition, BCES sends two additional vehicles with Santa on his neighborhood visits. SUVs preceding and trailing the fire engine provide overflow space for the massive influx of dolls, games, bikes, art sets, blocks, balls, cars and stuffed animals that Santa graciously accepts on his journeys.

BCES Chief Freddy Howell, Chief Deputy Mike Dick and their crew estimate that Santa visited with nearly 3,500 children in Bryan County throughout December. Santa gives each child he meets a candy cane, and this year, the department went through 3,456 candy canes. And as the number of children visited increases, so does the number of toys donated. Howell believes this year’s donation might be the biggest the department has ever presented to Sims.

“We’re so grateful to the folks of Bryan County for giving so generously to families in our community who are in need this holiday season. It touches your heart to see the massive number of toys we’ve presented to Family Connection – it really is a testament to how much people care about each other in this area,” Howell said. “Our crews love going through the neighborhoods with Santa, meeting residents and seeing the kids light up as they spot us coming down the road. It’s really a rewarding initiative, beneficial for all involved.”

Anyone who missed Santa’s visit to their neighborhood need not fret. While the jolly old soul is finished riding on fire engines for the time being, he will be hosting a Breakfast with Santa this Saturday morning from 8-11 a.m. at Fire Station 7 in Ellabell, 5995 Highway 204. Again, there is no charge to families who would like to come meet Santa, dine on pancakes and sausage, and enjoy some holiday merriment. Attendees are simply asked to donate a new, unwrapped toy. Those collected will be added to the donation going to Family Connection.

For more information about Bryan County Emergency Services or Saturday’s “Breakfast with Santa,” please visit or follow the agency on Facebook: @BryanCountyEmergencyServices.

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