The Los Angeles Fire Department SERTOMA Club
The Los Angeles Fire Department SERTOMA Club (Service to Mankind) was established in 1980; the founding president was Battalion Chief Rey T. Rojo, who was active in the club until his death in 2017. Since its beginning, the LAFD SERTOMA Club has enjoyed the overwhelming support of (all of the past and current Fire) the Chief of the Los Angeles Fire Department and his administrative staff. Throughout its history, the club has supported many organizations associated with the LAFD including the Los Angeles Firemen’s Relief Association (LAFRA), the Firefighters First Credit Union (FFCU), the Los Angeles Chief Officers” Association (COA), United Firefighters of Los Angeles (UFLAC), the Los Angeles Fire Department Historical Society (LAFDHS), the Los Angeles Fire Department Foundation (LAFDF), the Alissa Ann Ruche Burn Foundation, and the LAFD Scholarship Fund.
The primary purpose of the LAFD SERTOMA Club is to support the community outreach programs of the LAFD by coordinating volunteers and raising funds for these outreach programs and their related events.
“Toys For Needy Children” Program…
The primary activity and event of the club is the support of the annual “Toys For Needy Children” program.The LAFD SERTOMA Club does this by raising funds for the program and coordinating volunteers to assist in the collection and distribution of toys for needy children in Los Angeles. Since its beginning in 1978, this program has provided toys for close to 4,000,000 children throughout the City of Los Angeles. In 2019, this program hit an all-time high of just over 132,000 toys collected and distributed during a six-week period.
USMC—Toys For Tots
The “Toys For Tots” program was established by the United States Marine Corps Reserve to bring toys to needy children throughout our country. In the mid 1980’s, our club contacted the local office of the USMC Reserve and agreed to an arrangement by which the LAFD would take care of the needy children within the city of Los Angeles, thereby freeing the Marine Corps to concentrate their efforts in other areas of the country. This arrangement continues to this day.
KABC—Spark of Love
In 1992, our club connected with KABC the local ABC affiliate) and assisted them in organizing the “Spark of Love” program. KABC invited all fire departments in their broadcast area to begin a program in their local jurisdiction. Since then, over 30 departments have joined this program, distributing toys to needy children in Los Angeles County, Ventura County, Orange County, San Bernardino County and Riverside County. To date, this coordinated effort provides nearly 500,000 toys annually to needy children in the southland. All toys donated to the fire stations are distributed by that department to the needy children of their community.
KABC invites the public to drop off a new unwrapped toy, sports equipment and/or donations to their local fire station for distribution in their local community. KABC solicits corporate and private donations and provides collection boxes, banners and posters to all participating departments. They also purchase toys, again distributing them to all participating departments.
All these boxes, banners, posters and toys are brought to our LAFD training center and distributed to the various participating departments, with our volunteers providing the “manpower”.
Toys for Needy Children Program
The LAFD program begins about November 1st, with the set-up of “Toy Central” at the Frank Hotchkin Memorial Training Center (FHMTC), LAFD’s main training facility. Collection boxes, banners and posters are distributed to all LAFD fire stations. The actual kickoff day of the program is the day after Thanksgiving.
Collection of Toys
As mentioned above, the general public is invited to drop off new and unwrapped toys and sports equipment and/or donations at their local fire station. KABC airs this invitation daily, especially during their news broadcasts. The toys and donations are then brought to Toy Central, where our volunteers sort the toys by age group and gender. All monetary donations are turned over to our club treasurer who deposits them in our club account and sends out a thank you letter with IRS information. All donations to the club are tax-deductible and are used exclusively for the support of the toy program, primarily the purchase, collection, sorting, bundling, and distributing of toys.
Distribution of Toys
The toys are distributed through local non-profit organizations that serve needy families throughout the city. These include churches, schools, day-care centers, recreation and park center, to name a few. These organizations send in a request form, listing the number of toys they request, the age and gender of the children, and the date and time of their event. Our volunteers then fill out the request, and the toys are brought to the local fire station for delivery to the local church, school, etc… on the date and time specified. This provides a great opportunity for our firefighters to interact with the children in their local district.
As a matter of policy, our program does not distribute toys that have the appearance of firearms or knives, or other material that is inappropriate for children.
At the end of the first week of January, any toys that are left over are stored in a locked facility and used in the set-up for next year’s program. These toys are also made available during the year for any family with children that suffers are serious fire in their home or apartment.
As mentioned, the primary purpose of our LAFD SERTOMA Club is to support the community outreach programs of the LAFD. Over the last 25 years, our club has been involved in the dedication ceremonies of over 20 new fire stations, providing food and refreshments for the public. We’ve had as many as 1,000 people come to one of these “Grand Opening” events.
We’ve also assisted with volunteers for the Los Angeles marathon, Torrance SERTOMA and LAFD SERTOMA Club golf tournament, the March of Dimes 5-K run, the LAFD Memorial Service, 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony and many other civic events.