FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) — Before Santa Claus headed back to the North Pole, he stuck around to help try and bring children who lost everything in the Four Winds apartment fire some late, and much needed, holiday cheer.
A “present parade” filled the streets of Fall River Thursday morning, bringing toys to the kids who used to call the decimated apartment building home.
The idea came about following a heart-touching moment from Rachel Degroot’s 4-year-old daughter Zoe.
“She made a very innocent statement that I’m sure most of these kids were thinking about, and that was, she just lost all her toys from Santa Claus!” Degroot recalled.
Christopher Peckham, the organizer, said Zoe’s story piqued his wish to help.
“It broke my heart, so I decided to put a toy drive together for all the kids,” Peckham said.
Peckham, a father himself, felt he needed to do something to help lift the children’s spirits.
He said social media helped spread the word about his toy collection drive, and the following parade.
According to Peckham, it all came together in about four days.
The parade, which included a of box trucks, police and fire vehicles and small buses, marched from the Fall River Police Department to the community center at the Four Winds Apartment complex. Volunteers, including the man in red himself, opened the backs of trucks and carted in pile after pile of toys.
The children were grateful, and so were parents like Degroot.
“It touched my heart to know somebody cared that much about my little girl and her Christmas, enough to do all of this, and not just for her but all the kids!” Degroot said.
The loss in the fire was “gut-wrenching” for residents, some who’d been living in the complex for more than a decade, including Degroot.
“It’s hard to think about the past 11 years, all of our memories, every single piece of our kids’ past that we were holding onto is down there, underneath all that rubble. It’s really, really hard,” Degroot said.
The 36-unit apartment building at Four Winds Apartments burst into flames New Year’s Day when a car crashed into the boiler room and ruptured a natural gas line.
The community continues to rally around the 80 people who were displaced. Donations are still pouring in to help the victims, though the Fall River Firefighter’s Wives Association says they no longer need clothing and are instead asking for monetary donations, gift cards and toiletries.
Online donations can be made through GoFundMe, and checks can be mailed to the Firefighters Wives Association, P.O. Box 423, Somerset, MA, 02726.