By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Most folks would consider $1,000 worth of toys a nice haul. But the head of a local firefighters group that collected that many toys last Saturday, November 23, pointed out that the total was nowhere near what is usually acquired through donations during the annual holiday project.
“It seems to get a little lower every year, but every little bit helps,” said Atmore Fire Department Lt. Daniel White, who organized the annual AFD Toy Drive 13 years ago. “Unfortunately, this year didn’t turn out as well as last year.”
Rain fell during the earliest stages of the drive, which was held at the local Walmart, but that’s nothing unusual.
It also rained during last year’s toy drive, when firemen received about $3,500 worth of donations for local youngsters and those in the hurricane-ravaged Florida Panhandle, while rain and sub-freezing temperatures have become a staple of the annual event.
“Maybe the rain didn’t help us out any, but it seems like every time we do this, it either rains or it’s really cold,” White said.
Even the costumed super-heroes and other characters who came to help couldn’t push the numbers higher, though they continued to draw the attention of youngsters and their charitable parents.
“They’ve been coming for about four years now,” White said of the five members of Causeplay Gulf Coast who made the trip this year. “They draw a lot of attention. They attract kids, and where kids go, their parents go. They’re a good bunch of people to work with, and they seem to enjoy what they do.”
“We do enjoy it,” said Martha Howard, who was in her familiar Black Widow get-up. “We love doing this type of thing, and we love these guys.”
The actors have taken part in the annual AFD toy drive four of the past five years and have helped with AFD’s local Muscular Dystrophy Association fundraiser. The only one they missed was when an ice storm struck Lower Alabama in 2017 and they couldn’t get out of the Port City.
White praised the Causeplay members and his AFD comrades who take part in the annual event.
“As far as the guys, they are always willing to jump out there and help,” he said. “And Causeplay Gulf Coast …they’re good people. They give their time and don’t ask for a dime.”
Black Widow was joined by Captain America (another regular at the local toy drives), Batman, Supergirl and Vanellope von Schweetz (from the children’s movies “Wreck It Ralph” and “Ralph Wrecks the Internet”). Batman, identified only as “Joey,” drove from Jackson, Miss. to be a part of the toy drive.
Augmenting the presence of the Mobile group was “Cricket” Blackmon, the daughter of AFD Capt. Jeremy Blackmon. The preteen, dressed as Mickey Mouse’s canine pal, Pluto, told virtually every customer entering the store what the local firefighters and their costumed comrades were doing, and why.
“She did a good job; she raised about $500 by herself,” White said. “She’s definitely got her daddy in her. When Jeremy’s out there, we always do better, because he’s going to stop everybody and talk to them. That takes a different kind of person, and a lot of us won’t do that.”
The first several years the local firemen — members of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 4101 — held the toy drive at Fred’s, and White would go atop the building and remain there until the group reached its goal.
The fire lieutenant said that got old after five or six years. He opined that maybe the time had come to revamp the annual event again.
“We started this more than 12 years ago, and it’s had its ups and downs,” he said. “It may be time to overhaul it, and I’m not really sure how to do that, or it might be time to give it a rest.”