Jan Radford wasn't sure how merry of a Christmas she could promise this year.
The 65-year-old lives in a small trailer near Nisqually with her great-grandchildren Duke and Lacey Resen, ages 7 and 4, whom she’s been taking care of for several months. She receives food stamps to help her buy food for the children, but Radford doesn’t have the ability to provide much else for them, including a Christmas with presents.
Then came the knock on the door. “We’ve gotta go inside,” Santa said after greeting Duke and Lacey on the porch. “We’ve got some talkin’ to do.”
With a sack full of presents and helpers behind him with more, Saint Nick entered the quarters and started unloading gifts for the siblings.
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“It’s so cool,” Lacey said. “Today is Christmas!”
Such scenes played out in homes across the region Sunday as Lacey Fire District 3, in conjunction with the Lacey Police Department, loaded up a fire engine and a medic unit and delivered presents to 14 families. The district works closely with North Thurston Public Schools to identify families that need extra help during the holidays, said Lacey fire Lt. Pat Harn.
Just before walking through the sleeping bag covering the trailer door, Santa turned around, grabbed Radford’s hand and started singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
“You’re making it very possible now,” Radford said as tears filled her eyes.
And though Santa made only quick stops in each home, the hard work and preparation for the event continues all year long.
In 14 years of giving away presents, Lacey Fire District 3 has raised more than $500,000 and helped 500 families celebrate with presents and a visit from Santa.
Harn said funds are raised with help from Lacey police through the annual fire and ice basketball game between firefighters and police and a local golf tournament. Lacey police also are taking part in the annual “Shop with a Cop” event across the area.
Local fire and police crews, along with their families and area students, spent the bulk of Saturday buying $8,000 worth of presents and then wrapping all of them.
The chance to help the community during the holidays is something first responders always enjoy taking up, Harn said.
“Usually we come to people’s homes in a time of tragedy. This is a time to give in a more uplifting, positive scene,” Harn said as he loaded presents into the back of a fire engine.
During the convoy’s first stop of the day, volunteers delivered a trundle bed and presents to Joe and Connie Karpiak’s four grandchildren.
After snapping photos with Santa in the living room, the boys helped move the mountain of presents near the fireplace.
“I want to cry,” Connie Karpiak said. “We’re tight on money, but it’s tough for everyone right now.”
Santa also visited the Million family, whose three kids had plenty of love to go around.
Laura Million said once her kids were told Santa would be visiting, they cleaned the entire house and invited their younger nieces and nephews to come over.
“We don’t do well, so when something good happens, we share,” she said.
The family has fallen on tough times. Elishia Million, 13, said it was great to have a community to count on during the holidays.
“They helped us when we really, really needed it,” she said.