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Firefighters make Christmas wish come true for two area youngsters

It will be a Christmas long remembered for two Sydnor Jennings Elementary students.

Dustin Grove, 9, and his 7-year-old sister, Leanna, arrived at Walmart Super Center with Liberty volunteer firefighters around 10:30 Wednesday morning grinning from ear to ear and very excited the firefighters were bringing some Christmas cheer their way. 

As the children stepped out of the vehicle, firefighters asked them what they wanted to get for Christmas.

“I want an X-box,” Dustin shouted.

“I want to get a hot tub this big,” Leanna replied as she pointed at the huge Walmart building.  

The firefighters laughed, and one asked if he could get in the hot tub. 

Leanna replied, “The whole world can get in.”

Thanks to members of the Liberty Volunteer Fire Department, Walmart Supercenter and McDonalds, the two Sydnor Jennings Elementary students will have quite the Christmas to remember this year.

First, the two youngsters and their mother were picked up at the school in the fire rescue SUV with a shiny red fire truck following close behind. Then the kids were crowned junior firefighters for a day complete with complimentary Liberty Volunteer Fire Department caps. 

Liberty firefighters transported the excited children to Walmart where they enjoyed a shopping spree paid for with funds raised by the Liberty Volunteer Fire Department. 

The department recently collected $262 during its annual Christmas party from donations given by the firefighters.  Each child received $131 to spend anyway they wished. 

In addition to firefighter donations, Walmart donated two $25 gift cards to the children.

“We love to be involved in the community whenever we are able,” Store Manager Debbie Bridgforth said.

 Leanna used her Christmas money to buy a camera, a winter coat, socks, boots, a sweatshirt and a hat, while Dustin bought a video game, hunting gear, coat, hat and socks. Both children wanted to get something for their 3-year-old sister, Skye, so they bought her a pink coat covered in snowflakes.

Following the shopping spree, firefighters took the kids to lunch at McDonalds in Centerville after giving them a ride around the Walmart parking lot in the fire truck. 

Leanna said her favorite part of the outing was getting her camera. Dustin said his favorite part was being with the firefighters including J. E. Anderson, Captain Devin Snead, Chief Andy Hughes, Terry Hudson and Ryan Hughes.

 Leanna and Dustin were selected for this opportunity after Liberty Fire Captain Devin Snead asked Sydnor Jennings to provide a list of children in need this season. The children on the list were part of the lottery, and one of the siblings names were chosen. Because they were brother and sister, they didn’t want to do one and not the other, so they decided to treat both.

 “I was excited when I got the call,” said the children’s mother, Mary Betterton. 

Betterton explained she only gets one check a month for the children and didn’t have any extra money to buy them anything for Christmas.

“Christmases have usually been good, but this year has been the hardest,” Betterton said. “ After I had a baby, I couldn’t get a job.”

 Captain Snead came up with the idea for the outing after serving as chief of the Halifax Police Department. One year he won $25 in a parade and decided to take a less fortunate kid on a Christmas shopping spree. Many local merchants saw what he was doing and jumped on board. Snead decided he wanted to do it again.

“I couldn’t imagine a child not having anything on Christmas morning,” Snead said.

Snead challenges all other fire departments and law enforcement agencies to get involved and do something like this next year.

“With everything that’s going on with the [Conneticut] shooting, these children need to know that we are there for them,” Snead said.

 Next year, Snead said he hopes they can help more children have a great Christmas.