Students from Island City Elementary School walked up and down the aisles at Walmart looking for gifts for their family (and, happily, for themselves). They chatted excitedly with their chaperones — La Grande Rural Firefighter volunteers, for the department’s eighth annual Shop with a Firefighter.
Smaller in scale and profile than Shop with a Cop, this event isn’t as well known around the community. But the generosity that drives Shop with a Firefighter and the good will accomplished are considerable.
La Grande Rural Fire Capt. Anthony Swales said eight students were chosen by the Island City teachers and are given $100 to spend for Christmas gifts. The money comes primarily from the volunteer association’s pancake breakfast held during the summer.
“We’ve been doing this for eight years, but we used to do the shopping for the kids ourselves,” Swales said as he followed Josh Lopez, 11 years old, through the aisles. “Five years ago, we started taking the kids with us.”
Swales and the six other firefighter volunteers took the eight students shopping in two groups — and, as a bonus, they picked the children up in fire trucks.
“This is the way we provide and give back to our community,” Swales said. “This event is specifically for our (fire) district.”
It’s not always about fighting fires, he said. This is a way for the volunteers to bring joy to the children who live in their district.
“If it brings a smile to their faces, then we’re all for it,” he said.
Josh stood in the toy section of Walmart debating what to get himself for Christmas. The decision was between a scooter and a Razor, similar ride-on toys.
“Do you have a helmet?” Swales asked, noting one toy was potentially more dangerous and would require more protection.
Several aisles over, Jordan Sain, 8 years old, was looking for bike gear for her uncle. She said he rides a lot, and at night. She also listed having to get her fish a present, too.
Chris Stauffer and Joe Boydle, both volunteer firefighters who shopped with the students, said this event allows them to do something for their community outside of the normal parameters of the job.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Stauffer said. “Every kid deserves a gift to open on Christmas.”
Boyle said giving back to the community gives back to the firefighters a sense of humility.
This is the kind of action that Christmas is really all about, he added. It brings Christmas cheer.
It was recently announced that the department’s fire chief would be stepping down — Swales has been the volunteer association president for the last 10 years, encompassing the eight years of Shop with a Firefighter. The volunteers are determined that the event will continue, and Swales said the fire department will always have Shop with a Firefighter.
This year, the association received an appreciated donation from Certified Personnel Service Agency Inc. to go toward the event. While the pancake breakfast —held during the summer — is the primary source of fundraising, donations are always welcome. To make a donation, call the rural fire department at 541-963-6895.