Santa’s team on Earth: 130 Federal Way area families benefit from annual toy and food drive

The bay at Station 26 was filled with boxes of food, bags of toys and volunteers. - Neal McNamara, The Mirror
The bay at Station 26 was filled with boxes of food, bags of toys and volunteers.
— image credit: Neal McNamara, The Mirror

Dale Edd’s team rolls up to an apartment complex off of 18th Avenue South and three young men — ages 10, 15 and 15 — jump out of the back seat. They hop into the pickup truck’s bed and grab three boxes of food and a large black bag full of wrapped gifts.

John Rickert, the lead man, goes ahead, walks up three flights of stairs and knocks on the apartment door, while Edd waits with the truck. Ms. Williams answers the door and lets Rickert and the three young men in. They set the food and gifts down in the living room, exchange holiday wishes and smiles, pose for a photo and then they’re on their way.

They are five proxy Santa Clauses and operate with the precision of an elite commando unit — like an extremely charitable, cheerful, Christmas-y commando unit.

The five — Edd, Rickert, brothers Tyler and Trent Kaufman, 10 and 15, and Jarred Prather, 15, — are just one group of many that fanned out around Federal Way and Des Moines on Wednesday to deliver toys and food to 130 families. It was South King Fire and Rescue’s annual toy and food drive, a tradition that dates back to the 1950s and started with just 20 families.

The whole effort started weeks ago, but on Wednesday, Capt. Kevin Crossen, the lead organizer, watched it all come to fruition. Hundreds of boxes filled with food were lined up in the cavernous bay at Station 26 in Des Moines. Nearby, black plastic bags filled with gifts were clumped together. Next to one bag was a shiny new red bike, with a card taped to it that read, “To: John.”

“At some stations, it’s amazing how many toys we get,” said Crossen, observing the outpouring of support the fire district’s annual drive gets.

The fire district raises between $9,000 and $10,000 to buy toys and food, Crossen said, but citizens also donate those items. Each year, the district offers local high schools the chance to compete in a food drive, with the winner receiving a $500 prize. This year, Decatur High School out-raised Thomas Jefferson. Local community groups, like the Lions Club and the Kiwanis, also help out.

The first district gets the names of needy families from the schools. Each child gets two wrapped gifts — some families have as many as nine children, Crossen said — and the family gets three boxes of food. Families receive traditional holiday meal fixings like ham, turkey, potatoes, oranges, stuffing, rolls and canned vegetables.

Often, the drive is too successful and has an overflow of toys and food. Those go to military families or the Multi-Service Center in Federal Way.

Crossen began leading of the drive a couple of years ago, and gives up many of his own hours — plus hours he takes off from work.

Crossen has a lot of help. At Station 26 Wednesday morning, there was always between at least eight and 12 people — police officers, high school students and firefighters — doing a job. Chris Colvin was helping out at Station 26. This was his first year volunteering. He was laid off last month, and wanted to give back with his time as he waits to start working in January.

“It’s something good to do for the community,” he said.

But the most action-packed part of the drive is the delivery: the moment all that goodwill is delivered through a family’s door. After the Williams family, Edd and his crew made traveled to a home in the Twin Lakes area. A man answered the door, appearing groggy, perhaps surprised at the sight of the delivery. He thanked the team and disappeared back inside his home.

Edd, a retired 30-year South King Fire veteran, remarked that it’s a good thing for the boys to see the less fortunate out in the community.

Also, he joked, they can handle lugging the toys and food into the homes.

The next stop was an apartment off of Hoyt Road. Toymisha Stevenson was there to accept the delivery and was smiling big as Tyler, Trent and Jarred deposited the food and gifts in the dining room. She said that she had forgotten about the delivery, but was very glad it arrived.

After the Stevenson delivery, Edd’s truck was empty. But they would go back to Station 26, fill it up and start all over again. Edd, Rickert — a fire commissioner and retired 32-year veteran — and the Kaufman brothers have been volunteering for this for years. But it was Jarred Prather’s first year.

“I just wanted to experience giving to other people I didn’t know,” he said.

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