MOSS POINT, MS (WLOX) - They are back and ready to bring joy to thousands of South Mississippi youngsters. On Thursday, a group of New York City firefighters arrived with boxes and bags of toys for needy children. It was their ninth Christmas delivery to the Deep South. Several firefighters fear this holiday mission may be their last.
The sleighs-on-wheels pulled into the Jackson County Civic Action Agency Thursday morning. Santa's helpers were greeted by tiny tots from the Moss Point Head Start Center who sang some catchy Christmas tunes.
"Oh, that was great, really warms your heart. It makes you feel good that you're coming down and doing this," said New York Firefighter Tom Hosford.
Twenty-six New York firefighters delivered two truckloads of toys, food and other goodies. The men formed a fire brigade to unload $10,000 worth of toys.
"It feels great! We love coming down. We love the Southern hospitality. We really like seeing the kids. It's very important for us to be a positive influence and role model for the children," said Tom O'Connor, a retired New York firefighter who organized the mission.
The firefighters raised money to buy the toys and collected pallets of gifts from generous donors. They have been making this annual trek to South Mississippi since Hurricane Katrina. This time, four firefighters had to drive through slippery ice and snow and traveled 1,250 miles to get here.
"We look forward to it every year, because they're not just firemen coming from New York, they're our friends," said Vanessa Gibson, Jackson County Civic Action Agency Program Director.
"It feels really good to know that they care that much about this community, and that we have left such a positive impression on them that they look forward to coming back."
But the organizer said this holiday tradition may be coming to an end.
"This year was our biggest struggle. We really had to scratch and claw to make the donations possible," said O'Connor. "It's sad. I mean, you know we enjoy coming down. We're not ruling it out but right now, you got to be realistic."
Even if they don't have enough toys to give out next year, the firefighters say they will come back to help with any toy distributions and see the children's faces light up.
"We've said that many times in the past that it's going to be our last and here we are again. So you never know. We could be back here," said Hosford with a big smile.
The toys will be distributed to children Saturday at 9:00 AM at two locations: The Jackson County Civic Action office on Jefferson Avenue in Moss Point and Nativity Elementary School in Biloxi.