It was supposed to be a one-time event, a toy drive to help 50 struggling families in the Gum Springs community along the Route 1 corridor. But that was 15 years ago. Today, Capt. Willie Bailey's Firefighters and Friends annual toy drive serves more than 4,000 children in need throughout Northern Virginia.
"I never expected it would grow like this," said Bailey, founder of the toy drive. "But businesses and people in the community have really stepped up to help fill what is a growing need in this area."
Bailey's efforts to help serve the community have grown to include a back-to-school backpack drive and fall coat drive and are supported by the entire Fairfax County Fire and Rescue department, the Fairfax County Firefighters and Paramedics union and numerous corporate sponsors.
It is because of these efforts that Bailey was recognized by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors March 6 as a nominee for the 2012 Fairfax County Volunteer Service Awards Benchmark 1,000 award. The award recognizes individuals who volunteer 1,000 hours or more each year toward community service and humanitarian efforts.
"This took me by surprise," Bailey said. "It is a huge honor for me to be recognized by Chairman [Sharon] Bulova and the entire Board of Supervisors. They have been encouraging of my efforts over the years and none of these programs would be successful without their support."
Sponsored by Volunteer Fairfax, the Fairfax County Volunteer Service Awards honor individuals, groups and organizations that have given outstanding volunteer service through a broad range of activities and programs. During the past 19 years, more than 2,500 residents and businesses have been recognized for their contributions to the community.
"When we [fire and rescue personnel] are not running 911 emergencies, we're trying to find other ways to give back to the community," Bailey said. "I didn't have much growing up in Del Ray but have been very blessed in my life. Now it's my turn to give back in whatever small way I can."
Bailey will be recognized at the 2012 Volunteer Service Awards ceremony on April 27 at the Waterford in Springfield. For more information on the awards, visit www.volunteerfairfax.org.