Things were hopping at Chicago Firefighters and Paramedics Union Local #2 on the South Side. Members have reached an all-time high in their annual collection of new toys, bikes and wagons for children served by Catholic Charities. Off-duty members and volunteers have begun assembling new bikes collected for their 13th annual toy parade this Saturday.
"It is really great to help people who are not so well off," said Brendan Byrne, Chicago firefighter.
The firefighters have collected 5,000 new toys, including 350 cosmetic baskets for young girls.
David Bernicky, a union steward in charge of five fire houses, says he goes to his men and women and tells them it's time to buy and donate toys. He was still bringing them in Thursday afternoon.
"I love it," said Bernicky. "There is nothing better than to see people out there with smiles on the kids faces."
Five hundred bikes, which still had to be assembled, arrived Thursday afternoon.
Tim O'Brien, director of public relations for the union, resurrected the toy drive 13 years ago. This year, $1 million in new toys have been collected from Chicago firehouses.
"We are proud of being firefighters and of being the community's keepers," said O'Brien.
In addition to Catholic Charities, other toys collected will go to the needy and the homeless.
"We will be at Toyota Park December 17 interacting with children," said O'Brien.
O'Brien says they will be accepting toys on the parade route from generous citizens of the Canaryville, Bridgeport and University Village neighborhoods. The parade will step off at 10 a.m. this Saturday, starting at 440 West 43rd Street and ends at Electricians Hall, 600 West Washington. This year's goal is to give gifts to 3,000 children.