​From Cowboy’s to Fire Engines: 33 Years of Operation Noel

by Kevin Cummings, Messenger Staff Writer

It was Christmas Eve 1983, and two Sewanee firemen and a music club in Tullahoma decided to play Santa for families struggling to make the holidays bright.
Cowboy’s, a club known for bringing in big name acts such asGeorge Jones and Ray Charles, asked customers to donate toys. They called Sewanee Fire Chief David Green, who is also a musician, and asked if the department would like to distribute the goodies. In the fire engine, Green and fellow fireman Randall Henley drove three bags of toys to three families in Sewanee— and Operation Noel was born.
The Sewanee Volunteer Fire Department (SVFD) and FROST, its Fund Raising Operational Support Team, are still helping Sewanee area people. Last year about 40 families received food and toys for Christmas.
“What started it all was the good feeling of helping people at Christmas,” Green said. “It feels just as good as it ever did.”
People donated used toys in the early years, some needing to be fixed, Green said. Through word of mouth, folks started donating money and new toys. When the ladies of FROST got involved, the program continued to flourish.
Henley said the fire department also placed boxes in Sewanee dorms to collect canned goods.
“It’s great to be able to help,” he said.
Now through the Community Action Committee (CAC), the program orders food from Second Harvest Food Bank. This year about 33 families in Sewanee, Midway, Jump Off and on Sherwood Road will receive boxes of food and toys thanks to donations and the work of firefighters, their wives and friends of the department.
Like fighting fires, helping people in car wrecks and other emergencies, the SVFD family has a passion for Operation Noel, Green said.
“That’s all we do this for, deep down in our hearts, is to help people,” he said.
Families that need food or toys send in an application, which is printed in the Sewanee Mountain Messenger, and the goods are delivered on Dec. 23. Anyone wishing to help in future years can contact any member of the Fire Department.