New Westminster fire chief Tim Armstrong had a Lego fire station under one arm and a dump truck under the other as he reported for duty at 6: 55 a.m. Wednesday.
It wasn't a normal day at one of New Westminster's firehalls, but rather the sixth annual Christmas For Kids toy drive and pancake breakfast at the Paddlewheeler Pub at the River Market. The event ran from 7 to 10 a.m. on Wednesday morning, and, as if on cue, the sun was shining brilliantly all morning.
"Every year, this seems to get bigger and we have more toys to distribute to Family Place and the Purpose Society," said Armstrong. "I think this builds on itself, and everybody puts so much into this."
New Westminster Chamber of Commerce executive assistant Miranda Vecchio was in charge of getting the final count of money and toys collected at Wednesday's event.
"The bottom line is we have just over 400 toys total, so that means each organization will be receiving 200 toys to distribute," said Vecchio. "That's about even with last year, but there seems to be a lot more this year because we received a lot of bulkier items."
As for cash donations, approximately $1,100 was raised, with Family Place and the Purpose Society receiving about $550 each.
"That's a little bit higher than last year and absolutely, we're pretty happy with how the event went," said Vecchio.
The Paddlewheeler was bustling almost from the moment the doors opened and right until the event ended three hours later.
At least 10 of Armstrong's firefighters were working the front door and arranging gifts under the Christmas tree when Mayor Wayne Wright came in for breakfast and a quick tour of the kitchen with Paddlewheeler chef Mike Stott.
"We used to take turns cooking, but they told us we were too slow," said Wright, who still posed for pictures in the kitchen with Armstrong and Deputy Chief Const. Laurin Stenerson, who was representing the New Westminster Police Department while Chief Const. Dave Jones was in Toronto for a conference.
Wright said he's been happy to participate in all six of the breakfast toy drives.
"We're collecting toys for two worthy causes," he said. "Who doesn't want kids to have toys for Christmas?"
Wright couldn't stay long, having to attend an 8: 30 a.m. civic centre meeting, but as he was heading out the door, outgoing New Westminster MLA Dawn Black was coming through with a big red truck for underneath the Christmas tree.
"The really nice part about this event is the community comes together to help people in the community," said Black. "The pub donates the food and the staff donates their time, people come with gifts and even Santa makes an appearance."
Santa, who bears a striking resemblance to former councillor Cal Donnelly, worked the room and posed for pictures and even learned a new trick or two, as he broke out into Psy's Gangnam Style, after some gentle prodding from Black.
Perhaps the biggest smiles came from the heads of the two organizations directly benefiting from the breakfast.
"We've been running our hamper program for 20-plus years and this supports that program," said Dawn Embree, executive director of the Purpose Society. "We'll put together 100 hampers to go out to people in need in the community, and these toys will be part of those hampers. This is just an incredible event, and it's so wonderful to see the community coming together."
The hampers, scheduled to be distributed on Dec. 20, will be a little heftier because of Wednesday morning's event.
"People are so extremely generous," said Embree. "There are some great gifts, and people also dig into their wallets and donate money. We're very thankful."
Also expressing thanks was Marjorie Staal, executive director of Family Place.
"We'll distribute our toys at our Christmas party," said Staal. "It's wonderful to see the smile on a child's face when they get a gift."
Coun. Jonathan Cote brought along some children's books and Coun. Bill Harper contributed a Lego set.
"I love interactive toys where kids can learn and build one thing on another," said Staal. "All toys are welcome, but when I see toys that are interactive, I'm very happy."
As 10 a.m. rolled around, Stott was finishing up in the kitchen as the pile under the tree grew even bigger.
"It's a long day because we usually start at 11 a.m. for lunch service," said Stott. "But this is something really nice to do for the community. We also sponsor a few families for Christmas, and this gets us all into the Christmas spirit."
While the Paddlewheeler, one of five key sponsors, had some suppliers donate food for the event, the other key sponsors of Wednesday's breakfast and toy drive were The Record newspaper, the New Westminster Chamber of Commerce, Westminster Savings and Downtown New Westminster.
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