BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Christmas came early for hundreds of South Mississippi families. A line wrapped around the Nativity BVM Elementary School while parents and their children patiently waited for what may be their only Christmas gifts.
For years, the New York City Fire Department has come to the Mississippi Gulf Coast at Christmas time to bring gifts for the needy. Raymond Bressingham is one of those volunteers.
"We started out just helping out after Katrina, collecting some toys and bringing them down, because after 9/11 all the other states came down and helped us," said Bressingham.
They have kept the tradition up since 2005, but driving several moving trucks full of presents all that way has gotten expensive, which is why the Biloxi Fire Department has starting raising money to help them out.
"This year we raised $5,000 for the Mississippi Santa Project in order for them to be supplemented and so they didn't have to bring so many toys down from the North," said Michelle Crowley with the Biloxi Fire Department.
Last year, the Santa Project served about 200 guests total. This year that record was shattered. Biloxi firemen visited local elementary schools to get the word out about the event. In the first hour, they saw more than 500 guests.
"It's really nice to see the children and the people in the church," said Bressingham.
"The Nativity School is beautiful. The people that come down here and work are great. The firemen, the volunteers, I'm just so proud to be a part of it."
Once the children entered the gym they were assisted by a New York City fireman who helped them pick out their gifts, and they even got a chance to sit on Santa's lap.