The East Lincoln Fire Department is hoping to do its part this holiday season in helping the community by taking several needy children and their families Christmas shopping Thursday as part of its third-annual ELF Project.
Fire officials expect to aid more than 100 children and their families this year, according to Assistant Fire Chief Mike Turner.
Children from three area elementary schools, including Catawba Springs, St. James and Iron Station, have been selected through school staff suggestions and the BackPack Program, which is sponsored by Charlotteâ€™s Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina.
Through the BackPack Program, each Friday childrenâ€™s backpacks are filled with food, providing needy familiesâ€™ enough meals for the week.
The ELF Projectâ€™s goal is similar to that of the BackPack Program in that firefighters seek to provide for disadvantaged children and their families.
Based on donations and fundraisers throughout the year, each child is given a certain amount of money and paired up with a firefighter who takes the child shopping for toys and other goodies at the Wal-Mart in Denver.
â€œImagine 100 kids being released into the toy section at one time,â€ Turner said laughingly.
He considered his past shopping experiences with the children to be â€œone of the most fulfilling things.â€ â€œItâ€™s really indescribable,â€ he said. â€œThey get to buy exactly what they want, and you see them light up when they put items in the buggy.â€
During the projectâ€™s first year, the fire department had between 80 and 90 children from just Catawba Springs Elementary School, where Turnerâ€™s wife serves as a teacher. Last year, St. James was added to the list with Iron Station Elementary joining this year.
Turner said thoughts for the ELF Project stemmed from his desire to want to provide gifts for the angel tree children at his wifeâ€™s school. In the projectâ€™s beginning stages, fire department shifts planned to each adopt a child from the schoolâ€™s angel tree. However, after finding out that the tree had been emptied of names, Turner was forced to find a different way to help the communityâ€™s needy children.
He noted how a friend of his had done a similar project with area families in Spartanburg, S.C.
â€œWeâ€™re here to serve,â€ Turner said, â€œand this is just one way we can do it. Weâ€™re not just here to help out with wrecks and fires.â€
Fire officials anticipate raising $10,000 for this yearâ€™s ELF Project, allocating aroundÂ $100 per child.
Turner knows the communityâ€™s need is much greater than what meets the eye.
â€œThe sad part is that there are more kids that need help,â€ he said.
He noted how several area residents have been laid off recently after working for one company their entire life, only to be forced out once the business suddenly shuts down.
Hills Chapel United Methodist Church, located at 988 South Highway 16 in Stanley, is set to provide a meal for the children and firefighters at 5 p.m. Thursday. Fire crews will take the children to Wal-Mart at 6 p.m.
Those who wish to donate money to this yearâ€™s ELF Project can still contact the East Lincoln Fire Department at (704) 822-5999. Individuals can also drop off or mail donations to the station, located at 7654 Hwy. 73 in Stanley, N.C. 28164.
â€œThe need is everywhere,â€ Turner said. â€œWe wanna help as many kids as we can. Itâ€™s all about taking care of people.â€