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Christmas heroes deliver

December 12, 2012 - Brandon Twp.- Counted among Paul Vassal's favorite Christmas traditions are two he does as a township firefighter— delivering fresh fruit to area group home residents, and shopping with under privileged children.

He planned to enjoy the traditions this week.

On Dec. 8, after Brandon firefighters assembled bags including bananas, oranges and apples at Fire Station #1, they proceeded to take the fruit to the individuals who live in area group homes. Township firefighters have had this tradition of pooling their funds to purchase fruit and then donating it to the special individuals they serve in the community for more than 20 years.

"It's very rewarding," said Vassal. "They (group home residents) want to hug you and really appreciate it."

Vassal was also planning to participate in the "Shop With a Hero" event on Dec. 13 at the Meijer store in Oxford. He has been in charge of organizing Brandon firefighter volunteers for the event for the past five years. They were to join other firefighters from Oxford, and Lake Orion, as well as Michigan State Police troopers, Oakland County Sheriff's deputies, and members of the FBI and National Guard.

For the "Shop With a Hero" event, children in need are selected by various organizations and their names are given to the public safety employees who are participating. The law enforcement and fire department personnel arrive at the store in their fire trucks, police cars, and other emergency vehicles to meet with the children.

"We're out front with all the lights on— people driving by the store probably think Meijer is on fire," said Vassal.

The heroes then have dinner with the kids, and each child receives a $150 gift certificate provided by Meijer to spend in the store. The volunteers then go shopping with the kids.

"We take them out in the store and they go crazy," said Vassal. "When you get good at it, you learn to use the Santa Bucks so the kids can get more stuff and we try to find sale items. We make suggestions, but don't tell them what to buy, because that takes the fun out of it."

Usually, four to six Brandon firefighters will accompany two children from this area during "Shop With a Hero."

Vassal and Fire Chief Dave Kwapis both said their favorite memory of the event is the year they shopped with a 12-year-old boy who wanted a snowboard, but was more intent on buying things for his family.

"He said he really wanted to buy something for his mom— that he had never been able to buy anything for her," recalls Kwapis. "He wanted a stocking hat for his Dad because his Dad worked outside, and he bought things for his sisters. He knew the true meaning of Christmas, what it is all about."

The firefighters know, too. Even though the boy thought he would not have enough money for his own toy, the firefighters did what heroes do and saved the day.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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