Reading firefighters answer call to fulfill Christmas wishes

'We raised just shy of $7,000 worth of toys'

READING, Pa. - It was a devastating fire that forced more than a dozen people from their homes in Reading earlier this month, and it couldn't have come at a worse time.

"We were all present for that fire on Hollenbach Street, which was pretty catastrophic," said Jason Batz, a Reading firefighter and toy drive coordinator. "It's December. It's Christmastime, and to suffer a catastrophic fire with injuries is terrible. "

Reading firefighters encounter these situations often, and now, just days before Christmas, they're looking to bring joy to children in the form of a toy drive.

They bought toys at Target in Exeter Township on Wednesday and collected toys in exchange for a free breakfast at Trooper Thorns in Reading on Friday.

"What we really like about it is the fact that all the toys and everything stay within the city of Reading and Berks County and support the kids that we see, unfortunately, during some of their worst times," said Deputy Chief James Stoudt, Reading Fire Department.

The drive is done with the Salvation Army and other organizations and donations. The toys will be sorted this weekend and distributed.

"We raised just shy of $7,000 worth of toys, $6,800," said Stoudt.

Children, who usually see firefighters in bad situations, now see them giving gifts and lifting spirits.

"What I'm told is we're the largest toy drive in Reading for the Salvation Army," Batz said.

Reading firefighters try to outdo themselves in donated toys each drive, but regardless of the number reached, according to the Salvation Army, it's always appreciated.

"They say that, with our generous donations, that they're able to fulfill every child's wish for the holiday season," Batz said.

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