Dr. Elisa Stephens, president of the Academy of Art University, has been named a Community Hero by San Francisco Firefighters Local 798 for her ongoing support of the largest toy distribution program of any city in the United States.
Thanks to Stephens, the San Francisco Firefighters Toy Program has a permanent, rent-free home at the Academy’s Jerrold Street warehouse. Stephens not only donates space for the toys to be stored and distributed, she has also arranged to provide free storage for dozens of the city’s historic fire vehicles.
Sally Casazza, chair of the San Francisco Firefighters Toy Program, says Stephens was a clear choice for the annual award, presented at a breakfast ceremony at the Julia Morgan Ballroom in San Francisco on Friday, October 24. “She’s always helped with toy drives, or whatever we’ve asked her to do. She never says no,” Casazza says. “She’s a team player—we appreciate that.”
The breakfast was attended by firefighters, local politicians—including California State Senator Mark Leno and San Francisco City and County District Attorney George Gascón—as well as film producer James Redford, who received last year’s Community Hero Award. David Chiu, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, was also honored for his work for firefighters.
The San Francisco Firefighters Toy Program’s longtime storage facility closed its doors in 2010, putting the program in jeopardy. “When it came to my attention a few years ago that the program needed a warehouse for the storage and distribution of toys, there was no question I would find the space,” says Stephens. “I’m a San Francisco native, and I know how deeply the city needs and appreciates what the firefighters do. They are true heroes.”
The Academy and its students are committed to collecting toys during the holidays by placing dozens of barrels in campus lobbies and dormitories. The university also collects thousands of toys at its employee holiday party.
Founded in 1949, the San Francisco Firefighters Toy Program was inspired by a group of firefighters stationed downtown who spent spare time fixing the broken bicycles of neighborhood children. The firefighters decided to create an official program to distribute new bikes to the families who would otherwise go without. The toy program—which serves infants, children and young teens—operates year-round but comes into the spotlight at the holidays, when barrels are placed around the city. Last year, firefighters received a staggering 41,000 requests for toys.