AURORA, Colo. — Dressed in a navy jacket and baseball hat, Aurora firefighter Paul Shoemaker doesn’t look like your traditional Santa Claus, but he may as well be for one Thornton family.
Every year, Shoemaker helps a family who’s lost their home in an accidental fire. He takes nominations on his Facebook page: The Holiday House Fire Donations. From there, he speaks with the family and asks what they need and what size clothes the kids wear. If they’re into sports or have any other interests, well, that’s just a bonus.
“I have three kids of my own and actually almost the exact same age,” Shoemaker said. “When I started this, I really... I had a family that had lost a lot of stuff. It wasn't a huge fire," he said, but the amount of smoke in the house resulted in a total loss for the family. "And then those kids, realizing they didn't have a Christmas is something that I couldn't go without myself with my three children.”
This year's family of five lost everything. The kids had nothing. Being in the fire service, though, Shoemaker knew he had to help. He’s seen the devastation and the looks on family’s faces after a fire.
“As a firefighter, I've seen devastation from house fires and what it does to a family," said Shoemaker. "And so seeing that during the Christmas time of year, it was kind of hard to see these kids go without nothing."
When he started helping families seven years ago, there were only a couple of gifts. This year, he raised around $6,000 worth of toys, clothes and gift cards. He says he drove hundreds of miles in his truck picking stuff up around the metro. Some even dropped toys off at his home.
“You enjoy seeing the community show up to your door and say 'Merry Christmas' to me and drop off a bunch of gifts,” Shoemaker explained.
He credits being a firefighter for wanting to help the community. He likes to dress up in his bunker gear and visit schools. Helping has become almost like an addiction for him — one he doesn’t seem to want to kick.
"It's just addictive and it repeats itself, you know?” Shoemaker lamented. “And, unfortunately, it's sad but I can take a sad moment and turn it into a happy moment.”