Since the mid 1980’s, the Jersey City Fire Department Engine 10, Ladder 12 have gathered for a Christmas fund drive. The head of Santa’s sleigh was Captain Mark V. Lee Sr., a 9/11 first responder that suffered from respiratory failure in the following years.
“When my husband became ill, he asked my son and I if we would continue this Christmas drive.”
Captain Mark Lee Sr. passed in 2014. His wife Cheryl Lee has taken over responsibilities since. This year The Captain Mark V. Lee Christmas Fund Drive will deliver over 6,000 wrapped toys and support over 100 individual families with presents.
“It started out with a couple hundred children. Then my husband would adopt a family, and then another family. It just kept growing. He was reaching out to less fortunate families in need, burn victims. It became such a big passion in his heart. My husband would say any child that has a toy under the Christmas tree and wakes up with a smile on their face, that’s what it’s all about. If we can do that, we’re doing good.”
Even the first snow of this winter season couldn’t keep volunteers at home. Presents line the walls on tables, organized by the age group they appeal to. Cherlyl hands out wrapping duties along with roll after roll of scotch tape.
Firefighter Buddy Hayes is handling toys for special needs children.
“Today, the wrapping party is part of the toy drive. It’s a great thing when everyone gets together. To me the best part of the toy drive is when you’re actually going to the classrooms and dropping these toys off to the kids. You see their faces light up with excitement when you come and they unwrap the gifts. It’s a great thing for everybody involved.”
Captain Lee’s efforts were recognized at this year’s President’s Cup at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey
City. His wife Cheryl and son, Mark Lee Jr. led the procession officially opening the event. The captain’s thirty-one-year-old son, also a firefighter, remembers what the fund drive was like growing up.
“We incorporated this wrapping [party]. It’s a testament to the man he was. He did all of the wrapping himself individually. All of these toys you see now and everything that’s going on he did himself. Coming home on Christmas, he was a short guy, he would be completely surrounded by toys and wrapping paper and I wouldn’t even be able to see him. I’d be wondering where he was when he’d pop out of a pile of toys. I would think, this guy is amazing.”
The Captain Mark V. Lee Christmas Fund Drive is accepting donations for new clothing and toys until Christmas Day. For more info CLICK HERE.