Fire department fills in for Santa

The presents were so numerous they all but filled the tiny one-room apartment on Wilson Avenue in Glendale. In one corner was a bicycle and helmet, in another, a set of plastic building blocks. Five children danced around, arranging and rearranging the piles.

"They woke at 7 a.m. and already wanted to bathe and get ready," their mother, Aida Cardenas, said. "They are so happy."

It was a joyful moment in an otherwise difficult year for the family, which has struggled with prolonged unemployment. They had not expected to celebrate Christmas at all — it was a stretch just to purchase the single 10-inch Christmas tree that sat on a table.

But Christmas came Friday to the Cademas family, and to 15 other Glendale families, delivered by members of the Glendale Fire Department as part of its annual Christmas Families program.

For the 15th year, engine companies and administrative divisions adopted a local family, treating them to a Christmas celebration they would not otherwise be able to afford, said firefighter and program director Chris Mays.

"We provide a Christmas turkey dinner, toys for the kids, and for the parent, a $100 target gift card," Mays said.

The receiving families are identified through Glendale's Head Start program, which provides child care to low income families. Many of the toys are donated by local community groups and individuals, Mays said. And some fire department personnel pool their money to purchase additional items, such as a Christmas tree or gift cards for the teenagers.

The Christmas Families program allows the fire department to service the community in a different way, said Capt. Joanne Davis.

"There are needs in the community that we try to address," Davis said. "So much of what we do is reacting to things after the fact, and this is something we can do a little more proactively. [We] try to help to take care of people, especially with the holiday season and with the economy."

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