NIAGARA FALLS, NY - For the past 85 years, Niagara Falls firefighters have been helping Santa on the side.
"It's like once you start, it's like a black hole. You're sucked in for life and you can't get out. Definitely in a good way," said Niagara Falls fire captain David McGovern.
When the Niagara Falls Firefighters Christmas Toy Fund first started, volunteers found broken or discarded toys and fixed them up to give to needy children.
Over the years the project has grown into a non-profit with year-round fundraising to purchase new toys for more than 1,000 children in need.
McGovern and the fund's chairman, Captain John Castellani, have been volunteering for the project for a combined 40 years. They joined when they were rookies.
"I was immediately recruited which is a tradition within the fire department. You join. You're told your duties, get your training and then you're indoctrinated into the toy fund which is an excellent tradition," said Castellani.
The firefighters partner with social services, the Boys and Girls club, and the YMCA to identify children and families that need help. The agencies fill out applications on behalf of their clients.
The toys are stored in a secret location until they are handed out in mid-December.
The fund also collects money to buy winter coats and clothing for about 500 kids, and the volunteers hold an annual holiday brunch for nursing home patients in Niagara Falls and the surrounding areas.
There is a "Disco Night" on Saturday, November 23 to benefit the Niagara Falls Firefighters Christmas Toy Fund. It will be held at the Elks Lodge on Fashion Outlet Boulevard in Niagara Falls. It starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $10 at the door.