Jefferson Awards for Public ServiceBy Sharon Chin

SAN MATEO COUNTY (KPIX 5) – This week’s Jefferson Award winner is a fire captain that leads the way to make sure no child in central San Mateo County child is left out when it comes to holiday gifts this season.

When they’re not responding to emergencies, many first responders at Central County Fire Department in Burlingame are managing a huge toy drive. The organizer Captain Herman Barahona.

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He takes after the man in red, according to firefighter Brenden Kelly.

“We call him ‘Santa Herman’ every year, and he calls us his elves,” Kelly said.

Barahona took over the department’s toy drive 17 years ago. Since then, it’s tripled from 100 barrels of toys collected to an average of 350 barrels a year.

Central County Fire Department Capt. Herman Barahona. (CBS)

Central County Fire Department Capt. Herman Barahona. (CBS)

All of the toys go to low income kids in San Mateo County.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to give back to the communities we serve,” Barahona said.

He oversees collections at dozens of locations from businesses and schools to fire stations in Burlingame, Hillsborough and Millbrae. The new, unwrapped toys are delivered to some 15 nonprofits, from churches to recreation centers.

CALL Primrose in Burlingame distributes groceries to up to 650-low income families a week. The nonprofit’s executive director, Terri Boesch, said over the years the toy drive has provided holiday presents for thousands of families.

“You’re struggling to put food on the table. Soap and shampoo are luxuries,” Boesch told KPIX 5.

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As the need grows, Kelly said Barahona keeps up with coordinating the massive project.

He even built a website, www.ccfdtoydrive.com, to get the word out.

“He is certainly one of the most selfless people I’ve met,” Kelly said. “For him to undertake this every year is no small task.”

In fact, Barahona kept the toy drive going even though other nonprofits suspended their toy drives last year because of COVID-19.

The fire captain and his team of some 70 department volunteers collected almost 300 barrels of toys in last year’s outdoor, socially-distanced effort.

“I know a lot of families were out of jobs, they weren’t working,” Barahona said.

Barahona himself grew up in San Mateo County in a family with seven children, so he understands the financial struggle.

And he’s committed to making the holidays bright for families in need.

“For all of us who do this work behind the scenes, it gives us the ability to know we made a difference,” said Barahona.

For organizing and expanding the annual fire department toy drive to make sure San Mateo County children have gifts for the holidays, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Captain Herman Barahona.

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Note: The toy drive ends on Christmas Eve, but Barahona says no toys submitted after the deadline will be turned away. More information can be found on their website.