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SHIRLEY — A small group of firefighters, Phoenix Bar & Grill, and Shirley Friendship Fund volunteers distributed 40 food baskets, 40 turkeys, and 22 gift bags from the Shirley Fire Station to needy local families on Dec. 21.

Eleven volunteers also distributed 103 gift bags to senior citizens for the holidays. Many of the gifts were donated by local residents via the three giving trees that were erected at St. Anthony of Padua Church, Fidelity Bank, and North Middlesex Bank in Shirley.

The firefighters picked up many of the donations from various locations, and donated the potatoes, carrots, rolls, and onions, which they bought with funds raised at their annual Turkey Raffle in November. The Phoenix Bar & Grill purchased the turkeys.

Shirley Friendship Fund co-chairs Linda Brackett and Heidi Conley said that they wish to thank Senate Construction, Fidelity Bank, Shirley Fuel and Gas, Sterilite, Patricia MacDonald, Ampac Enterprises and the Jurga family, the Bull Run Restaurant, Phoenix Bar & Grill owners Ed Sherwin and Jay Howlett and their staff, and the ShirleyArts! Children’s Touring Christmas Choir for their assistance and generosity.

The Children’s Touring Christmas Choir, coordinated and directed by Meredith Marcinkewicz, performed a benefit concert for the Shirley Friendship Fund on Sunday Dec. 19 at the Bull Run brunch, where they raised $387.

On the day of the food and gift distribution, firefighters Al Deshler, Capt. Joseph Hawthorne and Lt. Troy Cooler moved the large baskets of food items close to the entrance of the fire station to make it more convenient for families to pick up. They were assisted by Sandy and Gene Wixom, Ellia LeBlanc, Tracey DeWolfe, and Lisa Lemiere.

Hawthorne said that the firehouse has been used as the location for the Shirley Friendship Fund holiday distribution for as long as he can remember, and he has served with the Shirley Fire Department for 30 years.

“The fire station is a natural place for this,” he said. “The firehouse has plenty of room, is conveniently located, and everyone knows where it is. Doing (the gift distribution) here also reduces the amount of traffic to other places. And, we’re always here.”

Besides the SFD’s annual turkey/gift raffle fundraiser, for which local businesses donate raffle items, the fire department also does an annual motorcycle ride in September, said Hawthorne.

“We generally raise between $1,500 to $2,000 a year,” he said.

Although much of the money raised by the fire department goes toward the December food and gift distribution, the firefighters also provide five scholarships in the form of $100 savings bonds–two to the Shirley Middle School and three to Ayer High School–for Shirley students.

As Hawthorne moved around the fire station helping his fellow firefighters distribute food and gifts that Wednesday afternoon, one would never have suspected that, just the day before, he had received the commonwealth’s highest award for bravery in firefighting, the Medal of Honor, during the 21st annual Firefighter of the Year Heroic Awards ceremony held at Faneuil Hall.

It was little more than a year ago that Hawthorne entered a burning building without protective gear to save the life of mother of three, Patricia LeBlanc, who attended the ceremony to personally thank him.

Although not a Medal of Honor, the reward of providing food and gifts for those who otherwise could not afford them was more than enough for those who, each year, help to bring joy to their fellow citizens.

“This is my Christmas,” said Linda Brackett, as she gazed upon all of the food baskets and gifts assembled in the firehouse. “This is what it’s all about.”

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