Community helpers make Christmas bright for youth through Red & Blue Christmas Rescue

Published 4:39 pm Monday, December 19, 2022

From an early age, parents and teachers tell children about Community Helpers and the ways they help. Kids often dress up in red pint-sized firefighter coats and hats, or dark blue law enforcement uniforms. They love badges and handcuffs and doctor’s kits.

Ask them what they want to be when they grow up, and they may say firefighter, policeman or doctor.

On a recent Saturday morning, some happy children from Badin Elementary School hung out with some real-life firefighters, police and sheriff officers and emergency medical people.

In 2013, when Stephen Butler was serving with the Badin Police Department, the idea of a Christmas shopping trip to assist Badin families came to life. Butler and the BPD joined hands with Badin Volunteer Fire Department and Stanly County Emergency Services staff to make it happen.

The outreach was named Red & Blue Christmas Rescue.

“We wanted the name to reflect everyone involved,” said Butler, who is now with the Stanly County Sheriff’s Office.

For seven years, Butler and his team raised funds and coordinated the event. The program ceased during 2020-21 due to Covid precautions, but recently Badin VFD voted to bring back the Red & Blue Christmas Rescue. Fire Chief Timothy Jarman asked Fire Commissioner Polly Martin to take over the organization phase of the program.

“I couldn’t have pulled it off without help. It was a joint effort between the departments,” said Martin. “I also had help from Lee McClamrock, Badin Elementary’s guidance counselor. She supplied names of children and communicated with the parents about such things as clothing sizes and favorite colors.”

Martin contacted businesses and families about financial sponsorship for each child — eventually enlisting 13 businesses and six families.

The special day began when parents dropped off their children at the firehouse on Lou Donaldson Boulevard. After a hot eggs, bacon and pancake breakfast, the eager children and adults scrambled into fire trucks, EMS ambulances, police cruisers or Stanly County Sheriff’s Office cars.

A rolling line of red, blue and white vehicles with sirens sounding and horns honking left Badin Volunteer Fire Department Station 26 about 9 a.m. Dec. 10. The slow-moving caravan eventually made its way to U.S. Highway 52 and into the parking lot of Sunbelt Automotive.

Sunbelt’s David Coltrane and his employees were prepared. The children walked into a showroom full of bicycles and helmets chosen just for them. Large tags dangled from handlebars identifying each gift recipient.

“I got tears in my eyes seeing all the bikes and all the happy faces,” said Martin.

Coltrane has been part of the Red & Blue Christmas Rescue team for several years, as well as similar programs in other Stanly County municipalities. His smile was as big as the children’s.

“This makes Christmas,” he said.

A couple of Badin volunteers loaded the bikes into trailers for the trip back to the firehouse while everyone else loaded up the caravan bound for Walmart.

With instructions like, “shop for clothes first,” and “finish checking out by 11:45,” the children and volunteers, all dressed in red Badin VFD shirts or sweatshirts, made their way to the racks of jeans, toboggans, gloves and shoes.

Shawnette Robinson, right, helped during the Red & Blue Christmas Rescue. (Photo by JO GREY)

First time volunteer Joanie Mauldin said her student loved clothes shopping. He said the plaid shirt, jeans and work boots were the best outfit ever.

Next stop was the toy aisles where children seemed happy, but thoughtful.

“They were even price conscious,” said Badin volunteer Gary Rife.

“It was such a pleasure to assist these kids…seeing how excited they were warmed my heart,” said his wife, Jane.

“I loved doing this. It was lots of fun, and very eye-opening,” added Mauldin.

Martin says 43 volunteers took part in the event. The Community Helpers were spread throughout the aisles helping youngsters find the things their hearts desired. Even a Walmart shopper who stopped Martin to inquire about the occasion had tears in his eyes when he asked if he could make a donation. All surplus funds will be held over for next year, according to Martin.

“You can see how appreciative they all are,” Martin said.