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Annual Firefighters Holiday Toy Program Is Underway

Academy of Art University student athletes gave San Francisco firefighters a hand by distributing toys to 1200 children at City Hall in the leadoff to the oldest toy program in the country run by off-duty firefighters and their families.

The annual event, hosted by Mayor Edwin M. Lee and the San Francisco Department of Child Support Services in partnership with the San Francisco Public Library and San Francisco Firefighters’ Union Local 798, distributes toys collected through donations to the firefighters. Academy student athletes support the program by collecting, sorting, packing and handing out toys to children year-round, including around holidays and during disasters such as the recent wildfires in Butte and Lake Counties.

The partnership dates back to 2011 when the nonprofit toy program lost its home. That year, Academy President Elisa Stephens offered dedicated warehouse space at the university’s Jerrold Avenue facility in Bayview and encouraged student athletes to volunteer to further enhance their campus life. The toy program has been operating from the same location ever since.

“Five years ago when we were told we had to vacate our space, Dr. Stephens stepped up,” says Sally Casazza, program chairperson. “Donating the space means we can continue to collect and distribute 200,000 toys to 40,000 low-income families in a safe and respectable environment.”

Academy of Art University Director of Athletics Colin Preston says the toy program is just one of several San Francisco organizations in which student athletes volunteer. This time of year, those students might recall memories of opening presents with their own families…and put themselves in the shoes of children who might not otherwise receive any gifts over the holidays. “To be out in the community is something that’s at the forefront of our department,” says Preston.

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