Naomi Johnson, 5, Ann Arbor, is all smiles as she climbs aboard her brand new bicycle inside the Ann Arbor Fire Department headquarters on Fifth Avenue Tuesday.
"These people are really in need, and we're just happy we can do something for them."- Ypsilanti Police Lt. Craig Annas
By SUSAN L. OPPAT
The Ann Arbor News
Ann Arbor firefighters staged their own version of the popular "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" television show on Tuesday night.
But it wasn't a new house behind their fire truck. Instead, they unveiled new bikes for 10 local children as part of the new Bikes for Tykes project firefighters hope to repeat next year.
It was one of many programs local police and fire departments held in recent weeks to raise money for the less fortunate during the holiday season.
Ann Arbor Fire Management Assistant Amelia Moshier said firefighters raised money for the bikes after another management assistant heard about a similar program. To raise money, firefighters sold calendars. The firefighters decked out each of the bikes - bought with a deep discount at Two Wheel Tango in Ann Arbor - with name plates.
Moshier said the new bicycle owners thought they were just getting dinner and a tour of the fire station - then were surprised with the bikes.
In Saline, firefighters outdid themselves this year, with a little help from the Fiddlers Restrung high school music group.
Saline firefighters have been collecting about 300 toys per year for the Marine Corps League's Toys for Tots program for seven years.
But this year, Saline Fire Chief Craig Hoeft said, the Fiddlers asked the audience at their Dec. 9 concert to bring toys, which boosted the total to about 500 toys, including several bicycles.
Hoeft said three toys were set aside for each of 60 Saline-area children selected by state social workers. The rest went into the countywide Toys for Tots effort.
"When you think of Saline, Ann Arbor, Chelsea, you don't think of people who don't have anything," Hoeft said. "But once you get started, you've got to help these kids. That's what it's all about."
Tony Gillum, who coordinated the Washtenaw County Toys for Tots program, said it will serve more than 980 families this year, with a total of 4,000 to 5,000 children.
Gillum said collections were better than ever this year, and the first distribution to nearly 300 families took place at Ypsilanti High School Tuesday.
Charles Carter, 6, zips around the inside of the Ann Arbor Fire Department headquarters on Fifth Avenue Tuesday night.
Livingston County police agencies participated in a countywide Shop with a Cop program coordinated by Livingston County Sheriff's Deputy Anthony Clayton.
Clayton said more than 50 police officers from all over the county shopped with 105 children who have incarcerated parents, or have been taken from their homes because of abuse or neglect or might otherwise have had negative contact with police.
He said officers held fundraisers and, on their day off Dec. 1, drove the children to Wal-Mart in police cars with lights and sirens running.
Late donations and donations from shoppers in the store came to $7,300, which Clayton said will be applied to next year's shopping.
In Van Buren Township, 20 elementary school children had a chance last Saturday to Shop with a Hero - one of 17 police officers or firefighters who participated in a Wal-Mart program that gives each child $100 to shop for him or herself and the rest of the family.
"It's a great opportunity for us to stay involved in the community in a role other than our usual one, and everyone enjoys having a chance to be with the kids," said Officer Ryan Bidwell.
Ypsilanti Police took a new tact this year, adopting five families with 29 people, with help from Wal-Mart and the Friends of the Ypsilanti Police Department, which donated $2,500.
Lt. Craig Annas said $1,000 will be used for Meijer gift cards for food. The rest will be divided equally by the number of people in each family, Annas said. Annas said about eight police officers and five or six volunteer service corps workers will go along on the shopping trips today.
"These people are really in need, and we're just happy we can do something for them," Annas said.
Pittsfield Township police and firefighters went shopping at Meijer Wednesday with 10 families. Deputies from the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Department also held their annual Shop with a Cop trip in Dexter Wednesday.
Susan Oppat can be reached at email@example.com or at 734-482-1166
More pictures are in the photo gallery