The Azpira at Windermere assisted living and memory support community has been working hard to give back to local first responders this holiday season.
Twelve residents in the community have been working since Dec. 1 collecting donations to fill stockings to present as gifts for area police officers, firefighters and paramedics.
Azpira at Windermere Executive Director Naomi Berindei said she came up with the idea as a way to show gratitude for the way the first responders help the community residents.
“I just know that for us, we take time away from our families to help the residents, and I was trying to think of who else was doing this and who else we count on,” Berindei said. “These are the guys we count on. They have families, and they have kids, but they put everything on hold to serve and they do it with a smile on their face.”
The stocking stuffers included goodies to help first responders keep up their stamina during the busy, and sometimes stressful, holiday season.
The Azpira residents reached out to the surrounding community for help, requesting stocking stuffers including bottled water, candy bars, nuts, gum, granola bars, oranges or clementines, chapstick, hand sanitizer and fun socks.
Some of the families at the community even have first responders in their direct circle and chose to donate items to help.
The residents delivered the 25 stuffed stockings to two shifts at fire stations 34 and 35 on Winter Garden-Vineland Road.
“It means a lot … not all areas in Orange County get this, so it’s always appreciated when people come and show us gratitude — especially during the holidays because a lot of us are still working,” firefighter Sarah Monroe said. “It wouldn’t work if there wasn’t mutual respect between the department and the community. For us to be able to get information from them, they have to trust us as well, so to be able to do our jobs the best we can, it also takes them.”
Azpira resident Lenny Schneider said the gratitude goes both ways.
“They’ve been very good to us and we just wanted to show them that we appreciate it,” he said.
Schneider, who has been with Azpira for five years, said he has seen close up how the first responders handle emergency situations. In fact, Schneider had his own need for emergency response when he had a dizzy spell and fell to the floor earlier this year.
“I thought that if there was anything that I could do to show appreciation then it would be to help with the stockings,” he said.
Firefighter Colin Cranin said the surprise stockings meant more than he could express in words.
“Being able to have people over to the station and to kind of be part of the community makes us feel a little more welcome around town since we cover such a large part of the area,” Cranin said. “To actually get a chance to meet a group of people that we work to keep safe means the world. It’s really great that we have a chance to experience this opportunity.”
Cranin said the most important piece of the relationship between the community and first responders is trust.
“Everything we do is based on trust,” he said. “They have to trust us with saving their lives. When we come on to a scene there is no time to do anything but react to make sure everyone is as safe as they can be so having that right off the bat is so helpful.”
Azpira resident Jeanette Haney has experienced the importance of trust between the two entities first hand, as her son is a retired firefighter of 28 years at Reedy Creek.
“Firefighters and first responders will always hold a special fondness in my heart,” she said. “I felt like it’s nice to contribute to something that isn’t often recognized or acknowledged. They’re forever there and we call them often for residents that need help. I feel so comfortable with them. Knowing the work that they do and everything they give up to keep us safe. It’s overwhelming and I feel so grateful to have this station nearby to help us if we need it.”
Berindei said seeing the delivery of the stockings was a heart-warming moment and she knows the residents will be talking about the deliveries for a long time.
“Our residents were so excited and really enjoyed the visits,” she said. “In the future, we want to do something small for first responders every holiday going forward if we can. We want to make sure we are giving back and working on building that relationship with them. They pick up the phone no matter what. They’re always there for you, and we know that we can count on them.”