MANCHESTER, NH – The snow was falling Friday and utility trucks were loaded like Santa’s sleigh for an early Christmas for nine families, about to be paid a visit by Manchester Fire Fighters and their helper elves, who set out to deliver hundreds of gifts to the families, which included 23 kids. It is part of the annual Christmas outreach by employees of the department.
Manchester Fire Fighters collected donations throughout the year from the members of their department, the administrative staff helped with the shopping which culminates on delivery day, this year Dec. 22. All the money was donated by employees of the Fire Department and City’s Information System Department, and includes essentials, like diapers, and a family-sized meal for their holiday dinners.
A super special moment this year was a tearful reunion when the firefighters delivered gift after gift to Lisa, who got her life back this year after seeking help for addiction through Safe Station. She is now reunited with her kids.
District Fire Chief Michael Gamache said being able to include Lisa and her children in this year’s outreach, which has been going on for 25 years, was a bonus for him.
It all started with a fateful encounter.
“We had answered a call for smoke in the building at Serenity Place at just about the same time we were wrapping up the application process for our annual Christmas program,” says Gamache.
People were being evacuated from the building as a precaution and Gamache was downstairs near the entrance, when he met Lisa. “She came up to me and said, ‘You guys saved my life.'”
Lisa entered Safe Station seven months ago when she was desperate to get her life – and children – back. After receiving counseling and other support services through Serenity Place, Lisa has been able to find employment, secure an apartment and, two weeks ago, reunite with her kids.
“Every year we pass the hat around for this program, and we look for families that need a little help getting over the hump,” says Gamache. “We don’t do repeats – each year we want to find a family that’s working hard and just needs a little help. We had gotten a last-minute very generous donation, which made it possible to help Lisa and her family.”
Since Safe Station started in July of 2016, many firefighters have been involved in the intake process as part of their regular shift, shepherding people who come through the door to Serenity Place where they are assessed and a plan for recovery is initiated.
“From our end, we normally only see them at their worst and we don’t know how it ends,” Gamache said. “Lisa’s story helps put the wind in your sail – we’re passionate about what we do, but it’s special when we have a chance to see a happy ending.”
Gamache said another emotional stop was at the home of a 12-year-old boy who just lost his dad unexpectedly.
“I sat in his living room and talked with him for a while. The star on his Christmas tree was his dad’s baseball cap. It was very emotional. Situations like that are tough, but with help from organizations like the Boys and Girls Club and city Welfare, each year we’re able to identify families that have been through a struggle, and we have the chance to help them through the holidays,” Gamache said.
Thanks to Jeffrey Hastings for contributing to this report.