In the early 1950s, Long Beach firefighter Murray Cohn started collecting toys for needy kids in the area surrounding his fire station. This labor of love and generosity took root and grew to other crews at surrounding stations, helping the cause and providing for even more children. For more than 20 years, Captain Bob Caldon, who is now retired, has been overseeing the toy program and has carried on the traditions from long ago, helping hundreds of needy families each year.
In 1992, a cooperative decision was made to develop a regional toy drive. Known as the “Spark of Love,” local area fire departments have teamed with ABC Channel 7 for financial backing, supplies, and media coverage.
Through the combined generosity of businesses and residents, each year the “Spark of Love” program provides gifts to kids throughout Long Beach who would have otherwise gone without. The toy drive effort works in conjunction with several other charitable organizations to both give and receive toys and donations. Each year, the drive provide toys for about 400 families and more than 20 different community groups, building good will within the community and providing kids with positive role models.
Teachers in the Long Beach Unified School District identify needy families throughout the year, and firefighters also see hardships in the areas they serve and recommend families. Toys are collected throughout the month at various city events, parties, local businesses, and from residents who drop toys off at fire stations.
The program runs as a result of numerous volunteer hours put forth by the Long Beach Fire Department firefighters, lifeguards, ambassadors, and honoraries. Deliveries are made to families and community organizations throughout the month of December, culminating in a “Code 3” delivery day when rounds are made throughout the city with Santa in his fire engine sleigh.
Donations should be new, unwrapped toys, sports equipment, clothes, or school supplies. Items for teens are also needed, and these items can be dropped off at any local fire station, CVS Pharmacies, City Hall, or select local business. Spark of Love also accepts monetary donations. (Checks should be made out to “Friends of Long Beach Firefighters, Spark of Love.”)