CORNER BROOK The annual toy drive orchestrated by the Corner Brook Fire Department does not accomplish its merry feat only on the backs of the firefighting elves who give so much of their time.
The fire department also has its proverbial Mrs. Claus, who is an instrumental cog in the effort to bring smiles to the faces of less fortunate families.
Alfreda Ruth began working at the fire department as an office assistant in 1998 and first volunteered to help the toy drive effort in 2000, after her infant daughter got a little older.
Each year, she has taken on a little bit more of a role.
At first, it was taking some spare time in the evening to help clean up and fix old toys and to sort and package all of the donated and purchased items.
In 2005, she helped establish a computerized inventory of gifts to keep track of what the toy drive had collected and what it needed.
These days, she serves as a liaison between the fire department and the Salvation Army, which provides the list of families who could use some toys as Christmas gifts.
Now that the toy drive accepts only new toys, Ruth has also become a toy shopper extraordinaire.
“It’s nothing for me to get off work at 4:30 in the afternoon and not get home from the stores until 12 or 12:30 at night,” said Ruth. “When December comes, I pretty much clear off my calendar and spend almost every night shopping for toys. It’s also nothing for me to be out early Saturday mornings before the big crowds hit.”
Ruth now takes her grown daughter along to help her select toys. Sometimes, they’ll even stop other shoppers with children and ask what they think kids these days would like.
There was one year when Ruth knew of one child who really wanted skates, but none had been donated or purchased. She was at a local store on Christmas Eve to pick up a prize she had won when the merchant there asked her how the toy drive was going.
She mentioned how she would have liked to have seen someone donate skates so they could be given to that child. The merchant immediately made a last-minute donation of skates for that child.
“When I got home that night, it didn’t matter that I had won a prize at that store,” said Ruth. “It mattered that I had skates.”
She has never kept track of the volunteer hours she has punched to help the toy drive. Spending her spare time doing this is not an issue when it comes to the extra special feeling she gets every Christmas.
“This takes a big responsibility, but you know you’re doing it for someone who needs it and that’s the whole point of what it’s there for,” said Ruth.
This year is the 37th year for the fire department’s toy drive. Organizer Alex Chaulk is expecting they could be putting together more than 500 hampers this year.
The hampers for kids from infancy to 12 years of age all have at least three new items.
Chaulk said there are many local businesses who have made generous donations.
“We would like to thank Alfreda — our Mrs. Claus — for all the work she does for us, from recording to the biggest thing of all — the shopping,” said Chaulk.