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Santa Rosa firefighters kick off toy drive

  • Rory Bourdage places donated presents under the Christmas tree during the Santa Rosa Firefighters Local 1401 Toys for Kids toy drive at the Veteran's Memorial Building in Santa Rosa on Sunday, December 1, 2013. (Conner Jay/ THE PRESS DEMOCRAT)

Santa Claus was impressed and a little sobered.

Several kids at Sunday's annual Santa Rosa firefighters' union pancake breakfast and toy drive did what kids do — told Santa what they hoped to get for Christmas.

But three young boys and girls in particular surprised the typically jolly guy.

“I want my family to be together for Christmas,” one young child told Santa, who also goes by the name Ken Reese.

“Another one told me they wanted to bring joy to the world. ... and the other one said they wanted their uncle to come home from Iraq,” Santa said, estimating the kids were about seven or eight years old.

“Those are serious things for the little kids to be asking for. That's a huge burden to be carrying,” said the man behind the white beard, whose serious day job is to oversee the handling of 911 calls to Sonoma County's emergency fire dispatch center.

An estimated 500 people attended the event at the Santa Rosa Veteran's Memorial Hall.

It was held in a side room decorated cheerily in green and red, with long rows of tables for the customers and a seat for Santa next to a Christmas tree.

It's been held by Santa Rosa firefighters for 15 or so years. The breakfast, staffed mainly by off-duty firefighters and family members, kicks off the holiday toy drive by firefighters' Local 1401.

The cost for a full plate of pancakes and sausage was a toy or $5 cash donation. Several Sunday said the event was an annual tradition.

“It's nice to support them, do this for the kids. I like that,” said Santa Rosa resident Debbie Lopez, who has attended for years with friend Vernann Helstock.

“It's a community event and we get to check out the cute firefighters,” Lopez said with a laugh.

Cristin Tuider and Art Jahnsen of Santa Rosa said they never miss the breakfast.

“There's Santa Claus, the food is good. It's a good cause,” said Jahnsen, who also appreciated the easy access to Santa.

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