Firefighters For Families roars to the scene of families in need

Although the wrapped presents from Firefighters for Families go to folks across St. Johns County, last year organization president Jenn Hampton received a gift of her own.

“Last year we had a lady that had three little boys and she was pregnant with another,” says Hampton. We give the option of wrapping or not wrapping the gifts, and we are perfectly fine with that because we understand that parents may want to see what their children are getting.”

Hampton says items, including some for the unborn baby, were put in a box and loaded in the woman’s car when she came to the station. Later that day she came back.

“She was crying, she was so touched,” says Hampton. She had written a thank you card to us, and had photos of her children. She wanted to meet the person that had shopped individually for her family. But because some of the people in our program come from different departments, the community, and the like, we don’t always know who adopts the families.”

It turns out it was Hampton who had shopped for the woman and her children.

“I do all the shopping for the families that don’t get adopted, so I spend a lot of days and nights and weekends at Target and Walmart. And every year my children come with me to do that shopping.

And last year my 11 year old woke up on Christmas morning and had tears in his eye and said, ‘Mom, think of all the people that we helped.’”

Her 21 year old still comes home and assists each year too, and her 5 year old is in tow as well. 

What started out as a passion in the 1980s by Ponte Vedra resident Karin Wisnovsky in a grassroots effort to help folks in her community grew, after her passing, to become Firefighters for Families. The group is supported by local firefighters from St. Johns County and the City of St. Augustine, along with other St. Johns County employees, residents, and private business owners. 

During the holiday season, Firefighters For Families works to provide a holiday meal, essential clothing, and toys to hundreds of local children. 

“Last year we reached out to about 240 families, which was just over 600 children,” says Hampton. She notes that families are identified by the St. Johns County School District and social services organizations. 

Firefighters For Families coordinates with other nonprofits in the areas to make sure everyone in need is covered.

“We are all on an email chat group and share each other’s lists, so if someone is on another list, or if someone is dropped, we can be sure to get help where it is needed,” she says.

The group is funded with an annual golf tournament in November and donations. 

“We do take monetary donations, and sometimes people do fundraisers for us,” says Hampton. “Sometimes people take toy donations around the community and come to the different drop boxes for toys, or bring them to the fire stations, but we only take new toys.”

She says another way to help is through volunteering.

“People can volunteer during the Christmas period, such as on our wrapping days, and wrap the gifts for our families,” Hampton says. 

Although the fire department is anonymous to the children, they are not to the parents or community.

“Typically, when you see the fire department or fire rescue, you’re seeing them on your worst day,” says Hampton.

“You see us out shopping, or on the day of the pickup, we have a truck that helps load the cars with the family items – we ask that the children don’t come – you see us on a good day. You see that we are able to help provide Christmas for children.

“The children don’t know that it comes from us. They believe it comes from their parents.”

Or Santa.


Firefighters For Families is a non-profit program supported by the St. Johns County Fire Rescue 

For information or to donate:


Patrick Evans-Hylton is an award-winning journalist, having covered a wide variety of topics in broadcast, electronic, and print media since 1995.