Local firefighters kicked off the annual Toys for Tots campaign Thursday at Milford City Hall and are ready to accept new unwrapped toys and monetary donations to make sure Milford children get gifts for Christmas.

Firefighter Jason Hall, who heads the local toy drive with fellow firefighters Brian Colwell, Jack Geary and Mike Geanacopoulos, said the economy hasn’t changed much in the past few years and the need to help local families hasn’t changed much either.

“We’ll make sure everyone is taken care of,” Hall said.

Toys will be distributed to about 300 Milford families.

While there are four firefighters spearheading the program, Colwell said the entire department gets involved in the toy-collecting effort.

“The guys go out in the firetrucks to make pickups at schools and businesses, and they get involved in giving away the toys,” Colwell said. “In one way or another everyone gets involved.

“We just spearhead it and send everyone off in the right direction,” he added.

Mayor Ben Blake and his family helped the firefighters kick off this year’s collection at City Hall. The mayor and his children talked to Santa Claus, who looked a bit like former Animal Control Officer Rick George.

The mayor’s young children, Caroline and Carter, filled Santa in on what they were hoping to get from him this year. Caroline wants a princess, and Carter is thinking about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toys.

Carter also had a toy to hand Santa to help start the Toys for Tots collection in Milford.

People can drop off new, unwrapped toys or books at any Milford fire station. Checks may be sent to Toys for Tots, Station 7, 55 Wheelers Farm Road, Milford, Ct. 06461.

The way the program works, the firefighters have a cache of toys already stocked by this time of year. Additional toy donations supplement the stock, and monetary donations go toward funding the following year's program.

Retired firefighter Butch Torento started the Milford-based Toys for Tots program 49 years ago. Torento often said that he had grown up without holiday toys and he didn't want others to go without as he had.

Hall pointed out that next year will be the 50th anniversary of Milford’s Toys for Tots, and he’s sure Torento will be in town to help celebrate that landmark.

The annual toy drive is sponsored by Milford Professional Firefighters Association Local 944.

Any family who needs assistance should call 203-874-6783 after Nov. 30. The program is confidential.