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Reno firefighters’ Christmas food basket program a 79-year tradition

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On Saturday morning, current and retired Reno firefighters will be assembling food baskets for pre-selected families that need a little assistance with food over the holiday period, continuing a Christmas tradition that began 79 years ago.

Families are selected for the program through referrals from a number of community-based organizations and agencies. This year, Reno firefighters are planning to distribute about 100 baskets. Off-duty and retired Reno firefighters will distribute the baskets to the selected families.

The program, traditionally known as the Sam Saibini Christmas Food Basket Program, has grown over the years with primary funding solely by members of the Reno Fire Department, and the donation of support and services from local businesses and individuals that have learned about the program. Firefighters are not making solicitations for donations to the program by telephone or email. All food baskets for this year are spoken for as families have already been selected.

In 1932 the late Sam Saibini joined the Reno Fire Department as a firefighter, and asked the captains at each of the Reno fire stations to help him provide Christmas dinners for families in need, with firefighters donating $1.00 each to help purchase food. Saibini, who retired in 1968 as a battalion chief, later said the program started during the Depression when people were tearing down fences just to obtain wood to burn for heat. During that period, Reno firefighters also began to purchase supplies of wood and coal for distribution to local families, which were stored in a back storeroom with the food supplies at the old Central Fire Station at the corner of Commercial Row and West Street.

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