Around 8 a.m. on Christmas Eve, a rescue squad vehicle pulled up in front of the Christmas Miracle Headquarters at the Shops at Seymour.

Don’t be alarmed. There wasn’t an emergency.

It was the mode of transportation for three members of the Pershing Township Volunteer Fire Department to deliver gifts to less-fortunate children through the Sertoma Club of Jackson County’s annual Christmas Miracle program.

Wearing bright yellow department T-shirts, Fire Chief Ben Rudolph and firefighters and trustees Aaron Otte and Chad Smith packed 12 boxes into the back of the yellow and white vehicle.

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They then made their way out to the Cortland area to drop off boxes of gifts at a couple of homes. The other stops were along county roads in the northwestern Jackson County communities of Freetown, Norman and Kurtz.

After traveling about 50 miles, they returned to the fire station in Freetown.

At that point, they felt good about taking time out to help with the Christmas Miracle program for the first time.

“I think it was a good experience, and I think it’s something that for me as a fire chief, I would recommend that we continue to do it every year,” Rudolph said. “It’s good for people to see the fire department in that light, too. Instead of always just going out when people call for help, we’re out there for other reasons, too. I think it’s a good thing for us.”

At each home, the firefighters said “Merry Christmas” and received thanks and handshakes for the gifts.

“I like to just be out there and help the community,” Smith said.

“It was good to see the people and see how happy they were to get that,” Otte said.

John Fox, co-chairman of Christmas Miracle with Ryan Begley, had contacted Otte about having the fire department help with delivering gifts in the northwestern part of the county. He instantly got the department on board.

“I said, ‘Yeah, I think it’s a good thing to do,'” Otte said. “I told these guys at our meeting, and some other people volunteered, and we thought it would be good to take one of our trucks and use it.”

The three firefighters were able to see the need that’s out there in the county, and they are glad to know programs like Christmas Miracle exist.

“It’s good to go out, and I like to give back to somebody like that,” Otte said.

“If somebody is having an off year or a rough year, they still get that joy out of the holidays,” Rudolph said.

“I just think it’s nice for people that can give to give to the people that need to receive,” Smith said. “If I can give this year, maybe next year, I’ll be the one needing it.”

Sertoma has conducted Christmas Miracle for more than 40 years.

This year, 280 families and 713 kids were served, and those numbers are down a little from last year, Fox said.

He credited better economic times with more people employed as one reason for the decrease. Also, the Fraternal Order of Police’s annual Cops and Kids program helped a record 107 children earlier this month, so those children weren’t included in Christmas Miracle.

“Jackson County was extra generous this year,” Fox said of people helping Christmas Miracle and Cops and Kids.

With Christmas Miracle, Angel Trees were set up at five local businesses to give people a chance to take one of the angels, buy the gift listed and then return it to the Angel Tree location. There also were private Angel Trees at local businesses where employees “adopted” the angels and purchased the requested toys.

On each angel, the child’s first name, sex, age and toy choice are listed.

Each child receives a main toy they have requested and an extra gift. Blankets collected by Brownstown Central High School’s DECA Club also were placed in each family’s box. That club’s drive netted 336 blankets.

As gifts arrived at the Christmas Miracle Headquarters, wrapping parties were conducted during the weeks leading up to the delivery day.

Fox said there were 10 different wrapping groups, each one having anywhere from six to 15 people. That included individuals, employees of local businesses and members of 4-H clubs, church youth groups and school organizations. Sertoma Club members and their families also gathered one night to wrap gifts.

By the time one group showed up, all of the gifts had been wrapped, so they helped Sertoma members place items in storage.

“The response for wrapping was excellent this year,” Fox said. “We worked all the way through fairly smoothly, and we were very grateful for having wrappers.”

Then before dawn Christmas Eve, more than 100 people showed up to deliver gifts around the county.

For some local groups and families, delivering on Christmas Eve morning has become a tradition. That includes Fox’s family.

“Our daughter from Kansas City and one of our grandsons from Reddington came and delivered,” he said. “This has become a Christmas ritual for us.”

By the time Rudolph, Otte and Smith reached their last stop, it was 10 a.m. and brighter outside.

They were happy to brighten the holiday of some local families, including Kalynn Ault and his wife and two children of Kurtz.

Ault said his wife found out about the program, and they decided to apply.

“I’ve been unemployed most of the year. I had a couple of surgeries, and my house, I’m still trying to get it done, it’s under construction. It has just been a struggle,” Ault said.

The couple have a 4-year-old child and one who turned 2 on Christmas Day.

“We were trying to figure out a way to help give our kids a little bit better Christmas,” Ault said.

Fortunately, a program like Christmas Miracle is able to help people who need it.

“I think programs like that are programs to restore hope in people’s lives,” Ault said. “People that struggle, they beat themselves up, but I don’t think people should look at it like, ‘I don’t want to reach out for a handout.’ I think they should look at it like, ‘Hey, my kids deserve (the best).'”

As a result, Ault was able to see his children smile because they had gifts to open Christmas morning.

“Sometimes, I’m not much of an emotional guy, but I am when it comes to things like that,” he said. “It can be a very, very happy moment, an exciting moment for them. Stuff like that are things you will always remember. I’m very, very thankful.”

Rudolph, Otte and Smith already are thinking about volunteering again next year.

Fox said it’s great to see that Christmas Miracle continues to make an impact on everyone involved.

“We’re just plain blessed this year all the way around. It has been excellent,” he said. “We thank the public very much over and over and over again for supporting us. This has become a community event as opposed to just strictly Sertoma. It has grown to encompass volunteers from all over the county.”

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Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.