Santas in blue suits toted big white bags around University City Shopping Center Thursday afternoon after nearly exhausting their credit limit.
An hour and a half earlier, the group of firefighters from the Spokane Valley Fire District union converged on the mall’s Tree of Sharing, located between J.C. Penney and Lamonts, to make their Christmas shopping list.
Without stopping to check it twice, they were off. Their goal was to spend $900 on as many Christmas gifts as possible for those in need.
“We’ve got one credit card and nine guys shopping,” announced Kevin Miller, an inspector for Valley Fire who spearheaded the group.
The Tree of Sharing program is just one of the Valley charities the firefighter’s union has contributed to yearly during the holiday season since the union’s inception in 1939. It raises about $2,400 annually for charity through union dues.
This year the union also donated $1,000 to the Spokane Valley Food Bank and $500 to The Spokesman-Review Christmas Fund.
“We’re paid by the taxpayers so we want to give a little bit back,” Miller said.
In years past, the union has donated money to the Tree of Sharing, but has never done the shopping. This year they decided to do things a little differently.
First-year firefighter John Levell wandered through a toy store looking for the perfect gift for two boys - one 8 and the other 9.
“Michael Jordan In Flight video game. Bingo,” Levell pronounced, also pulling an Exo Squad science-fiction video game from the same rack.
“Do you have these?” Monte Nesbit wondered, waving a fistful of ticket stubs from the sharing tree at a store clerk. A Barbie bedroom set was tucked under his arm.
“She wanted a house, but that was a lot of money,” he explained.
In the back of the store, Larry Rider and Levell searched for an electronic train set. The price was nearly $30, twice the amount Levell had budgeted for the six children he was shopping for, and he declined.
The price didn’t phase Rider, who was shopping with the same budget restraint.
“I’m just going to (buy) it and make up the difference,” Rider said.
The gifts were just a few of the nearly 50 the union bought.
At J.C. Penney, Marty Ward and Dave Halpin plopped an arm load of sweat suits, T-shirts and jackets on top of a pile of clothes that three other firefighters had already started.
“Check this out,” said Don Ellis, proudly displaying an Arizona Jeans jacket. “This is suede.”
Out came the credit card.
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