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Sidney, North Saanich, Central Saanich firefighters unite to douse hunger in annual food drive

Modified version of Peninsula Firefighters Christmas Food Drive set to return
Saanich Peninsula Lions Food Bank executive director Bev Elder (centre) stands with Kirk McColl (left) of the Central Saanich Fire Department; Paul Schwagly, North Saanich Fire Department; Rick Toogood, Sidney Volunteer Fire Department, and Matt Glen of the North Saanich Fire Department. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Firefighters from across the Saanich Peninsula will hit the streets Dec. 11 to collect food and cash donations for the Saanich Peninsula Lions Food Bank, in a modified version of the annual fundraiser cancelled last year due to the pandemic.

“It feels really good,” firefighter Kirk McColl, food-drive coordinator for the Central Saanich Saanich Fire Department, said of the return of Peninsula Firefighters Christmas Food Drive. The Sidney and North Saanich departments are also involved.

“We know that the food banks are in bit of a tight situation. So we are excited to do our part to assist to get their shelves a little bit more full.”

In 2019, the event collected some 20 pallets of food and $15,000 in donations.

All three departments will canvas their respective communities at different times Dec. 11.

In Central Saanich, firefighters will collect between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. in the Tanner Ridge neighbourhood. “In years past, we haven’t really been to Tanner Ridge a whole lot,” McColl said. “It’s a tight-knit community that is a little bit further away from our department.”

Central Saanich residents can also drop off donations at Fire Station No. 1 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Dec. 6 to 10.

In Sidney, the drive happens on Sidney’s west side between 4 and 6 p.m. Residents can also drop off donations in the back parking lot of the Community Safety Building between 1 and 8 p.m. or call for pick-up.

In North Saanich, firefighters will tour the Dean Park and Eaglehurst neighbourhoods from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Residents can drop off donations at the Wain Road fire hall between Dec. 1 to to Dec. 10 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Mondays through Fridays.

Lt. Rick Toogood, food drive coordinator for the Sidney department, said firefighters are really looking forward to the event.

“It’s that opportunity to get out and get everybody involved giving back to the community,” he said. “Of course, we weren’t able to do that last year. It was nice to be able to raise some dollars for the food bank. Of course, we know about the power of three. Every dollar roughly brings in $3 worth of food.”

In Sidney, firefighters raised almost $8,700 last year in lieu of the actual food drive.

RELATED: Sidney volunteer firefighters stamp out hunger with donation

But the act of collecting goods for the food bank has a distinct tangible dimension, Toogood said. “You can’t replace that (and) we lost that last year due to the pandemic. We are eager to get back out in the community, that real one-on-one interaction, being able to see people eye to eye.”

Firefighters often see people on their worst days, he said.

“Let’s say we are doing a medical call or when we are responding to a motor vehicle accident or some other crisis. This is an opportunity to see people at their finest moments – ‘here, here is something for somebody who has less than me,’” he said. “It helps to balance out the harshness that we see as part of our job as firefighters.”

The event also helps unite firefighters of different ranks and ages. “We are all putting our boots on, whether it rains or it is a nice night,” Toogood said. “You are collecting food and cash for the community. It evens everybody out. (We) are all there for one common purpose.”

Paul Schwagly, food-drive coordinator for the North Saanich department, said the absence of this wonderful event was felt last year. While organizers tried to make it happen last year, it was prudent to cancel it, he said.

RELATED: Saanich Peninsula firefighters call on public to support local food bank

COVID-19 still looms in the background – all three departments had to design a public health plan.

“We are hoping next year, it will be the full meal deal again,” McColl said.

While the activities for 2021 remain scaled down, some special seasonal elements are scheduled. In North Saanich, for example, Santa and Mrs. Claus will join firefighters on their rounds.

McColl said his department has no specific goals in mind for the fundraiser, a sentiment echoed by his North Saanich counterpart.

“We just want to collect as much food and as much cash as we can for those in need,” Schwagly said, adding the three departments have a friendly competition for bragging rights about who collects the most. “It’s always fun at the end of the day to see who has done the best, but in the end, it still those who are in need who win.”

North Saanich’s fire department is also already looking to the post-Christmas period as it will collect Christmas trees on Jan. 8. between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m with residents able to enjoy hot dogs and refreshments. The cost of the tree collection is by donation with funds going toward Santa’s Anonymous. North Saanich and Sidney residents may call (250) 656-1931 before or the day of Jan. 8 to arrange for Christmas tree pick up with minimum $20 donation.

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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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