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Santa's Helper Award given to paramedic

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By James Roberts

This year's Santa's Helper is likely the closest any of the past recipients have come to actually following in St. Nick's footsteps.

Denise Gupton, a lieutenant and paramedic at Campbellsville/Taylor County Rescue, received the award this year for her work with Rescue's Toys for Tots program. The Campbellsville Kiwanis Club presents the award each year at Miller Park just before Thanksgiving. The ceremony coincides with the lighting of Christmas lights at the park.

Gupton, who always attends the ceremony, came this year thinking she knew whom this

years' recipient would be. Naturally, she was surprised when the name read was her own.

"I was very honored and very surprised," Gupton said. "They kind of floored me."

Rescue Director Dan Durham, who's known Gupton since she first came to Rescue in 1992, said Gupton is a natural choice for the award.

"She is one of the most caring people I know. She has a real soft spot for kids. She is very deserving."

That soft spot makes Gupton the perfect person to organize Rescue's annual Toys for Tots program.

"I think the biggest thing for her when it comes to Toys for Tots is her organizational skills. She remembers the kids from year to year so, she doesn't buy them the same toy. She puts a lot of herself into that."

Gupton has helped coordinate the program for several years. Describing herself as a child-advocate, Gupton said she got involved in the program because she wants every child to be able to celebrate Christmas.

Each year, after funds have been raised through the Q-104 Toys for Tots Radio-a-thon, Gupton goes shopping for each child on the list, taking care to buy items appropriate for the child's age and sex.

Names of families and children come from the Holiday Helpline.

To help keep within budget, Gupton negotiates discounts with retailers. In addition to buying gifts, Gupton also prepares cards for each child. In the end, she usually buys gifts for 250 to 300 children.

In the two weeks leading up to delivery of the gifts, Gupton puts in an estimated 150 hours at Rescue and at home on Toys for Tots.

"I work on it in-between runs," Gupton said. "I usually camp out at Rescue for two weeks."

It's hard work, Gupton said, but is very much worth the effort.

"Just looking at the child's face [makes it worthwhile]," she said. "You can see their hope and the happiness."

Gupton also serves on the Interagency Council Board and the Emergency Medical Services Committee for Children. She also helps train other health care providers in treatment of childhood injuries and illnesses.

Kiwanis Club member Doug Mullins, who presented the award to Gupton Wednesday night, said several years ago the club began looking for a way to recognize outstanding community members.

"We were discussing what a wonderful community we live in," Mullins said. "There are so many people here who are always willing to help."

While she's honored the Kiwanis Club feels she meets that description, Gupton never sought recognition for her efforts.

"It's not something I strive to get. I don't look for recognition. If I can help somebody else, that's my Christmas."

- Staff Writer James Roberts can be reached at 465-8111 Ext. 226 or by e-mail at writer@cknj.com.