Firefighters and Friends collect more than 3,500 toys for area children.

Firefighters and Friends collect more than 3,500 toys for area children.

Christmas came a few days early for more than 100 children from local Head Start programs as they picked out toys during the annual Firefighters and Friends to the Rescue toy drive Dec. 17 at Penn Daw Station 11.

“Thank you for what you are doing here,” said Alexandria police office Bennie Evans, who attended the event with his wife Deana. “Keep doing what you are doing for these kids because it matters.”

Evans is the father of Cameron Evans, a T.C. Williams student who committed suicide last month. Donations raised for the family were used to help the firefighters buy toys for Alexandria children in need.

“It's not easy to be here today,” said Deana Evans, who stressed the importance of being aware of mental health issues. “But Cameron touched so many lives in this community during his life and we wanted to be here to let you know that what you are doing is important.”

Started nearly two decades ago by Alexandria native Capt. Willie Bailey, this year's drive collected more than 3,500 toys, bikes and gift cards for needy children in Alexandria and Fairfax County.

“I'm excited to be here again and happy to help out in any way I can,” said Troop 1865 Eagle Scout Mikel Sevareid, who has raised thousands of dollars over the six years that he has been volunteering in the toy drive. “There are so many kids who are less fortunate than me. It makes me feel good to help them have something at Christmas.”

With Ronald McDonald on hand, toys were distributed to representatives of 72 schools, shelters and nonprofits. Jazz, the Dream Dog Foundation mascot, gave away hundreds of donated books.

“Every school from Alexandria City showed up to pick up gifts for children who otherwise would not receive a gift for the holidays,” said Bailey, a Del Ray resident. “There were numerous businesses in Fairfax and Alexandria assisting us with purchasing and distributing the toys today. We can't save the world but we believe no child should go without a gift during the holidays so we are doing what we can to make sure that doesn't happen.”

Fairfax County Fire Chief Richard Bowers praised the work of Bailey and the community volunteers.

“I am so proud of this community and the outreach effort on behalf of those children who are less fortunate,” Bowers said. “This is what it's all about — the kids. So thanks to all of you for stepping up and standing out to make this a happy holiday for everyone.”