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This year has been a tough one for many families, between the pandemic and the job market, and it would be easy for people to pay less attention to others in need than they traditionally would at the holidays. For a family who lives on South Courthouse Road in Arlington, this holiday will be just a little better than it could have been.

International Association of Firefighters Local F-253 (Fort Myer Professional Firefighters), spearheaded by Firefighter Justin R. Cornelius, decided to provide what turned out to be nearly all of the family’s Christmas wish list. Had the family not celebrated Christmas, the donations would have been in keeping with whatever holiday they chose to celebrate, Cornelius said.

“(The mother’s) hours had been cut at work, and she’s just moved into their new apartment without a lot of extra in the kitty to provide a traditional Christmas for her three kids, ages 6, 3 and 1,” said Cornelius. “We got her name from Hoffman-Boston Elementary School after trying the Red Cross and social services for a specific family. They were all looking for gift-card donations to pool because of COVID-19 restrictions, but we were looking to do something more personal.

“We asked the family if there was anything they wanted in particular. The response I got from her was all the children wanted was to decorate a tree. We were able to get together about six or seven gifts for each child. Mom said she could really use a winter jacket, so we got her one of those as well, and we added a $250 Giant grocery gift card with donations from IAFF F-253’s Fort McNair firefighters.”

Cornelius added that he noticed the firefighters had been running calls in the nearby apartment buildings that people were struggling. People were falling through the cracks. Regardless of what’s going on, kids at least should have something for the holidays, he said.

“It just felt like this year, especially, we should be doing more than waving out the windows of the fire engine as we go down the road with the lights and sirens on,” said Cornelius, who had positive responses and donations from 37 members of the JBM-HH Fire and Emergency Services Department and their Family members. “This felt like something we needed to do, this year more than most. Our fire department Family has had its share of difficulties this year, but we’re not doing badly in the material ways that this family and others are.

“I think 2020 has been a particularly difficult year for many Americans,” said firefighter Timothy J. Murphy. “We have been fortunate to be in an occupation with financial stability. Being in a profession that assists the public, firefighter Cornelius and I decided we should help the local community that we serve, to brighten a family’s Holiday Season.”

Murphy has been wrapping presents with Cornelius. The two men decided what to give the family.

“I think what firefighter Cornelius is doing is outstanding,” said JBM-HH fire Chief Russ Miller, “especially at a time where a lot is being asked of everybody. The entire department, on both sides of the river, has stepped up. I couldn’t be more proud of these guys.”

The fire department raised $1,396 in less than a week, which will be presented to the family sometime this week.

“We’ve all been blessed in one form or another this year, but it’s sometimes tough to see it,” said Cornelius. “We hope this helps get the Family get through the holidays with just a little more cheer.”

This article originally ran in the Pentagram on December 17, 2020.