Chicago off-duty firefighters, paramedics preparing for Saturday's toy parade

December 13, 2012 (CHICAGO)

The bikes and wagons must be ready to be handed over to Catholic Charities for distribution throughout the city and suburbs.

It takes firefighter Gabriel Sanchez 10 minutes to assemble each bike and another 10 minutes to tweak it so they are safe to ride.

"It is a great feeling knowing that some kid wished for something and is getting that wish," Sanchez said. "It is touching so many kids cannot get what they want for Christmas."

These firefighters serve citizens of Chicago on duty and that spirit of giving continues when they're off duty. They solicit people for gifts and they also raise money amongst themselves to purchase thousands of toys.

"As a fire department, we see a lot of these kids that are in need at Christmas-time," said Chicago firefighter Jack Salzman. "It is terrible to go without a present, so it makes you feel good as a part of the community to be able to do that."

"It is a lot of time and effort and that is just the nature of our profession," said Chicago firefighter Michael O'Neill.

Abel Rivera is not only in the Christmas spirit and enjoys giving to those who are less fortunate, he also is having fun.

"The rest of the year everyone thinks of themselves but at Christmas time we get to help out," Rivera said.

They need more bikes, wagons and toys, and you can help them make reach their goal by showing up at the parade route December 15 and donating.

"We will take whatever the community is willing to give us and will be happy to give it to the right kids," said Tom Ryan, President of Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2. "Catholic charities can use whatever donations are available."

Chicago Firefighters and Paramedics Local 2 expect to reach the mark of donating $1.1 million worth of toys to Catholic charities.

The toy parade kicks off at 10 a.m. at 440 W. 43rd Street, and goes through Bridgeport, University Village and Greek Town communities to the West Loop at IBEW Union Hall, 600 West Washington Street. Firefighters will pick up additional unwrapped toys at curbside from anyone who wants to make a donation.

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