As dangerous wildfires rage in many parts of the United States this spring, the nation shares its concern for the safety of those firefighters who battle on the frontlines. That concern is also shared for the families who are left at home, as their loved ones face uncertain danger. Elfster salutes a special group of women who share a connection through the wildland firefighters in their lives and have started a gift exchange to help each other get through many rough months of the fire season.
“We’re all wives, fiancées or serious girlfriends of wildland firefighters,” explains one of the exchange organizers, Chantalle Edmunds. “They can be gone anywhere from 14 days at a time to the entire fire season. Often times, the locations where wildfires burn or the remote stations where [the firefighters] work don’t have cell service, so we can’t talk to them. Even if there is cell service, they can work up to 16 hours a day, which means we might get a phone call as they’re falling asleep. It’s a unique challenge coupled with the inherent risks that come along with the job.”
“The goal of this exchange is to ‘fill each other’s buckets’ and get something fun and personal in the mail at least once a month from May through Oct 1st. We set the limit at $50 for the entire season to promote creativity,” she adds.
The group originally formed in June 2012 and is still going strong. And Elfster is proud to help such an amazing and supportive group stay connected!
“Nicole Marquart, our group founder, was looking for other women who were in a similar situation and so she asked the Wildland Firefighter Foundation if there was a support group available,” Chantalle explains. “Since there wasn’t, she started a Facebook group. I have been a member since the beginning. We have more than 350 members from California to New Jersey and Minnesota to Florida. Very few of us have met in person, but we’ve formed wonderful friendships online.”
During fire season, the group orchestrates fundraisers for the Wildland Firefighter Foundation (www.wffoundation.org) and ran a successful t-shirt campaign — It’s a Wild Kind of Love — last season and also compiled a cookbook. Combined they raised well over $10,000 — very impressive!
“The group is also unique because when fire season ends in October, we disband a little. The group goes fairly inactive until the next fire season because we’re focused more on our families. We’re like the girlfriends you don’t see for a while, but when we get together again, it’s like no time has passed and we pick right back up where we left off,” Chantalle recounts.
The group turned to Elfster “to do a secret sister last year at the end of fire season and also to do an ornament exchange at Christmas time,” she explains. “The secret sister was much the same as the one we’re doing now, but for a shorter time period. We wanted this one to span the season.”
“We like the format of Elfster. The exchanges we’ve done in the past through Elfster have been successful, so it was the obvious choice,” according to Chantalle. “Elfster facilitates the exchanges better. It really makes the management part for the organizer minimal and allows the participants to interact anonymously. The secrecy part is the best part of the fun.”
The social features of Elfster offer the opportunity for participants to get to know each other a little better. “Because very few of us live within a close proximity of each other, the secret questions and wishlists have been invaluable in getting to know likes and dislikes,” Chantalle explains. “You can anonymously ask a very specific question and get an answer, which is wonderful!”
And the elves are pleased to say this exchange is a huge success! “We’ve already had to start a second secret sister exchange for this fire season because we had a huge influx of members after the deadline for signing up. There were also a few members that had missed the first deadline, so we’re in process of getting that one going. I’m sure this will be an annual exchange along with our Christmas ornament exchange.”
“My favorite feature is that Elfster really handles most of the management of the exchange,” she says. “It draws the names and notifies the participants of who they drew. I’ve usually got a lot of irons in the fire and that makes it so easy for me.”
Are you a part of a group that could use Elfster to help support each other during tough times? Start an exchange at www.elfster.com. And we’d love to hear from you, too. You can visit us on Facebook or tweet us @elfster.
photo credit: ESS EyePro