MANCHESTER — Keep a lookout Saturday for those city firefighters walking along the route of Manchester’s Christmas Parade down Elm Street.
They will be continuing a tradition that goes back at least 35 years — holding out empty boots to collect cash donations for the Santa Fund.
And Jeff Duval, president of the Manchester Professional Firefighters Association, said he gets blown away every year by the generosity of Queen City residents and visitors who turn out to see the largest holiday parade in the state.
“We see the same people at the same corner and they are always the ones reaching deep into their pockets to make donations to the Santa Fund,” Duval said.
“It’s neighbor helping neighbor. People always need to remember even a small donation can really make a difference for a family in need in their community.”
The relationship with the New Hampshire Union Leader, the Santa Fund and the involvement of Manchester firefighters goes back further than Duval’s tenure with the force.
“I think we were approached by the Union Leader. This has been going on for at least 35 years,” Duval said.
“This is just another way day in and day out we try to give back to the community as much as possible.”
On average, the collection raises about $2,000 a year for the Santa Fund.
“One of the things to keep in mind is that while we are collecting the money, it is the citizens of Manchester that are making donations along the parade route,” Duval said.
City first responders have this routine down to a science: Two teams of two or three firefighters flank a vintage pump truck as it carries Santa Claus along the parade route.
Duval said he’s never had any problem getting volunteers among the ranks for this duty.
“As with other causes that we do, a lot of our guys step up,” he said.
Manchester Fire Capt. Jon Starr said the truck Santa rides on is a 1953 L Series Mack pump truck that, since its retirement, has been owned by the Manchester Firefighters Relief Association.
“This went into service I believe on the West Side and then was moved over to the old Station 10 on Mammoth Road until the city retired it,” Starr said.
Along with Santa, of course, the truck is one of the star attractions — and that’s saying a lot, given that this year’s “Magic of Christmas” parade will include more than 80 entries — floats, light displays, marching bands, drill teams, horse-drawn carriages and other classic vehicles.
“We get to throw some of the kids in the back with their parents since it’s a safe two-mile route for children to ride in,” Starr said. “They just love it.”
Last year, the Santa Fund raised more than $190,000, enough to provide winter clothing to 300 children, toys for 2,844 children. Another 4,777 children and adults received items they needed for a holiday meal.
• Santa Fund donations can be made online at www.unionleader.com/santafund. It’s fast, easy and convenient.
• Donations also may be made by sending a check to the Union Leader Santa Fund, c/o New Hampshire Union Leader, P.O. Box 9555, Manchester, NH, 03108.
• Or drop your donation in the Santa Fund box in the lobby of the newspaper at 100 William Loeb Drive, Manchester, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.