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Christmas basket program gives children in need holiday joy with toys and coats

By: Teresa O'Hanlon, Placer Herald Correspondent
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He may be the most understanding, upbeat and interactive man in Rocklin, and that’s why Rocklin Fire Chief Bill Mikesell has so many heartwarming stories to share.
True-to-life stories of the season that might make a grown man, even Santa Claus, track down a tissue.
In the sixth year of the Rocklin Fire Department’s Christmas basket program, uniting community efforts of The Rotary Club of South Placer, Rocklin Unified School District and Toys for Tots, 80 underprivileged Rocklin children will surely believe in Santa Claus this Christmas.
More than 30 Rocklin families will have less to worry about with this month’s food bill. Hundreds of Rocklin volunteers will see the faces of grateful neighbors as they deliver wrapped gifts of new coats, hats, toys, McDonald’s and Winco gift cards.
“Every child gets a brand new winter coat,” shared Mikesell. “Scarves, gloves, mittens, stocking stuffer toys and three to four big toys like remote control cars or basketballs, a gift card to McDonald’s, $10 gift card to The Dollar Tree, a $25 gift card to Wal-Mart and a $50 gift card to each family to Winco for food. So we’re really just trying to bless their socks off.”
Larry Stark, assistant superintendent of the Rocklin Unified School District, said being involved in Mikesell’s program is a life-changing experience.
“This year our business department and education services made a decision … instead of giving each other gifts, they donated that money to the South Placer Rotary gift basket program,” said Stark, who is also past president of South Placer Rotary. “These are really, really nice coats. When you go in and see these people who have nothing until we get there and then see the gratitude and the excitement in their eyes, it’s so rewarding.”
Mikesell isn’t shy about sharing stories that bring the spirit of the holidays alive in many ways within his fire department. Rocklin High junior Nikolas Nunn, 16, came ready to serve every night during the holiday rush.
“We needed a volunteer for Santa through the neighborhoods,” remembered Mikesell. “And Nikolas volunteered and took his hat off to put the Santa hat on and there was no hair and then we realized it was from chemo. That young man has been pouring back and giving back to the community when maybe he doesn’t feel all that great, but we wouldn’t have known it. He wants to be a firefighter. He’s gone through about 30 different radiation treatments and he’s finding the strength to be there for us. It’s inspiring.”
Nunn, a brain cancer survivor, was thrilled when Mikesell asked him to play Santa Claus as firefighters toured Rocklin streets to spread holiday cheer around the city.
“I love to spread the cheer and hear all the little kids yell out, ‘We love you Santa,’” Nunn said. “Chief Mikesell is really awesome and really kind and really understanding. Hanging out with the firefighters over the holidays has shown me great role models. I hope everything I’ve gone through with my treatments will help me someday in the future as a firefighter, maybe saving someone’s life.”
Like Santa himself, Mikesell can’t hold back the joy he’s experienced making Christmas morning a true celebration for Rocklin families.
“One year we had some really nice toys and gifts sitting in my office that did not get distributed,” Mikesell said. “I felt terrible and I told my wife Colleen, ‘C’mon we’re going for a drive,’ and we started driving through the older part of Rocklin. All of a sudden we drove up to this house and these little faces were looking out the window. Pretty soon Mom and Dad came out to the porch and through the struggle of a language barrier, with help from the oldest daughter, we got through it. There were gender and age specific toys for every child for the two families living there. And that’s just one of many stories we see every year.”

For more photos: Locals gear up for giving season