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Advance Fire Department’s annual event brings smiles to faces

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Volunteers get their meals during the volunteer breakfast at the Fire Department Station in Advance, N.C., Wednesday, December 24, 2014. The Fire Department has been involved with donating gifts to the elderly, shutin and needy in and around Advance for over twenty years. (Bruce Chapman/Journal)

ADVANCE — On Christmas Eve, 92-year-old Annalee Myers waits patiently at her window, watching for the man in red, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

And as she sees Santa flying down the street in a bright red fire truck with a flock of elves wearing fluorescent yellow vests, her smile is so bright it would rival the glow of Rudolph’s nose.

“I don’t get to see many people, so I always enjoy everyone coming out here each year,” Myers said Wednesday. “I’m so thankful for what they do.”

Firefighters and volunteers have visited Myers and other residents for the past 20 years as a part of the Advance Fire Department’s annual “What Christmas is All About” event.

On Dec. 24, volunteers deliver baskets filled with goodies and sing Christmas carols for people in the community, most of whom are elderly or have experienced some type of hardship.

“It’s always a nice surprise to know people are thinking of us,” said Jennifer Rominger, who lost her brother to cancer three years ago. “It’s become a tradition, and I can’t explain how much it means.”

The event started in 1993 after Lori Carter Correll — who ran L&S Grocery with her mom, Linda — suggested that they do something to help the community during the holiday season.

They knew two local families that had been touched by tragedy, and started asking for community support. They enlisted the Station 12 across the street from the store — which had recently lost one of its own — and delivered gifts to the two families using a fire truck with Santa at the helm.

The event has grown from the two houses to a peak of 120 a few years ago.

During the first couple of years, volunteers would tirelessly deliver the gifts from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Now, however, volunteers take three trucks on different routes around town.

Gifts — which included stuffed animals, lotions and notebooks — were delivered to about 50 houses Wednesday.

“I’d say 10 of the people we see today will pass away by next year, so we want to give them the best Christmas that they can possibly have,” volunteer Angela Burton said. “The gifts we give are just little things, but they mean a lot.”

When one of the older ladies that volunteers had been visiting died a few years ago, they found that she had kept every stuffed animal that she had received from the fire department proudly on display, said Burton, who has been volunteering almost every year since the event started.

“For me, this is my Christmas,” Burton said. “I get more happiness out of this than I ever would opening a gift.”

Seeing the spirit of giving spread through the generations is one of the highlights, she said. Some of the kids who volunteered 20 years ago return to volunteer with their own kids, teaching them from a young age the importance of helping others.

“I know some kids think money grows on trees, so it’s great for them to see people who are less fortunate than them and help give them a Christmas, too,” Doug Morgan, a volunteer firefighter, said.

Morgan, a resident of Advance, had driven in from Georgia, getting back late the night before to participate in the event with his 13-year-old son, Luke.

“I wanted to show my kids how important it is to give back to the community,” Morgan said. “Today we got to remind people that we care and, no matter what, we haven’t forgotten about them.”

One of the women they visit calls the fire department each year to see if it is still coming to see her, declaring that it’s the highlight of her year, Fire Chief Rodney Miller said.

Seeing the faces of the people they visit is priceless, especially many of the elderly people who may not have family nearby, he said.

“It’s the one time of year you’re looking forward to a fire truck coming to your house,” Miller said. “No one should be alone at Christmas, so we just want to let them know someone cares.”

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