MARQUETTE- Santa showed up a bit early for five Marquette Township families this year in the shape of the Marquette Township Fire Department.
For the second year in a row, the fire department combined its own funding and a grant from Walmart to be able to provide kids in those families with money to go Christmas shopping.
"It's an awesome feeling to be able to see this," said firefighter Clay Kirby, who helps organize the shopping trip along with fire marshal Ron DeMarse. "We're focusing on the kids and making sure they're going to have a good Christmas."
Starting last year with three families, the Marquette Township firefighters this year sponsored five families - eight kids total - allowing the kids not only to buy gifts for their parents and siblings, but also pick some gifts out for themselves.
The shopping trip began two weeks before Christmas, with the kids and firefighters first having lunch together at McDonalds and then heading into Walmart to shop, with each kid shopping with a firefighter.
"I wanted to buy something for my dad," said 12-year-old Dustyn McNellis, planning out his shopping - football trading cards for Dad. "He's down in Detroit right now. He has like 20 of these huge books full of them."
McNellis and his younger sister Bridget, 7, were two of the kids participating in this year's shopping trip.
"Usually I'm the first one up on Christmas. I go wake everyone else up," McNellis said. "(I like) getting to see all of my family. We usually go to my grandma's."
Although they were doing shopping for their families, the kids were also allowed to pick out items for themselves, which gave them a bit of a clue as to what they would be receiving from Santa.
"My mom wants me to buy Wii games (for the Nintendo Wii game console). I said, 'But, Mom, we don't have a Wii,'" McNellis said, smiling. "It's super fun. The only thing better than a Wii is an Xbox 360."
The shopping trip also gave the kids a chance to bond with the firefighters, who selected the families with the help of the Salvation Army and area schools.
"We try to do different families every year," Kirby said. "All of us have kids, so we have an idea of what they like to play with.
"It's fun. It's going to be a blast."
But an even bigger part of the experience for the department is being able to give back to the community they serve.
"It's giving back. I'd love to see all the kids be happy for Christmas. We're part of the community and we want the community to know we're here for everyone else," Kirby said.
The kids said they also enjoyed the chance to get to know an actual firefighter.
"You'd expect firefighters to be all mean and stuff," McNellis said.
"But they're really nice," sister Bridget added.
After the shopping trip, the firefighters brought all the purchases back to the fire hall where they were wrapped and delivered to the families on Christmas Eve, in true Santa Claus fashion.
The fire department is also looking for donations from the community to be able to help additional families in following years. The department can be contacted at 906-228-6220.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.