- December 23, 2022
WINDERMERE – Because many firefighters spend the holiday season on call at their stations, Citrus Church, a fledgling congregation headed by Pastor Brian Johnson, is hosting four holiday events at Orange County Fire Station No. 35 in Windermere as part of the County’s Adopt-a-Fire-Station initiative.
Spearheaded by Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, the community volunteer program launched in 2012 and allows neighborhood groups, businesses and non-profits to show their appreciation for firefighters by providing holiday meals and volunteering their time at one of the county’s 41 stations.
To participate in the program, Citrus Church, which is affiliated with United Methodist Church but does not yet have a physical location for worship services, has planned out holiday events for the 20 firefighters at Station No. 35.
“We’re not doing worship right now, and we want to be the kind of church that’s known for serving the community and thinking more about others than ourselves,” Johnson said. “So it was a perfect match, and it’s a great way to say thank you to people who take care of our community. And a lot of our members have young kids, so I thought it would be a great opportunity for the kids to see the fire station and to meet these people who keep us safe in our community.”
The first event, held Nov. 21, was more of a meet-and-greet wherein church members brought coffee and pastries from a nearby French cafe. During the second event held Dec. 4, the church brought different types of chili for the firefighters. At the upcoming third event, scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 16, called Caroling and Cookies, Johnson and his congregation plan to bring freshly baked batches of cookies and have kids sing Christmas songs for the firefighters.
The last event, titled Stocking Stuffers for the Station, will be held Dec. 23.
“The fourth thing we’re doing — this is kind of our big one that we’re collecting for — we want to give each firefighter who is stationed there ... a stocking with goodies and treats and that sort of thing,” Johnson said. “So we’ve got a list of different things, like beef jerky and potato chips, candy, we’re looking for some gift cards, and all so that we could fill up a stocking and give it to each one of the firefighters right before Christmas just as our final big way of saying thanks for all that you do.”
To fill the stockings for the Dec. 23 event, Johnson and the about 30 members in his church hope to receive a helping hand from the Horizon West community.
After Hurricane Irma tore through Florida, the church partnered with members of the Horizon West Happenings Facebook page to do a flood bucket challenge.
For the challenge, they put together buckets filled with cleaning supplies that were later sent to areas that had been impacted by Irma. Because of the success of that initiative, Johnson said, he asked the same community members if they’d like to get involved and donate some items the church is seeking to include in the 20 Christmas stockings.
“Because we don’t have a worship service right now or a building and other stuff, it really frees us up to just find ways to serve the community,” he explained. “So my thought is if we can do that now and make that part of who we are, then as we grow and build in the years to come, it’ll help us to always keep a community focus. And a lot of people are moving to Horizon West, and many I’ve met say they want to make their community a better place. And the community here is really building from the ground up. So I’d like to think that in some small way we’re helping make this a giving type of community."