By Mary Wadland
ALEXANDRIA, VA – On Sunday, August 25, 2019, Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson posted on social media, “The unstoppable Willie F. Bailey is back at it, helping get hundreds of Alexandria’s kids ready for school. Volunteers from the community, Police Department, City of Alexandria, Virginia, Alexandria Sheriff’s Office, City of Alexandria, Virginia & Fire Department, City of Alexandria, VA working to outfit kids with backpacks, books and haircuts. The “village” is out in force!”
For almost 20 years Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Deputy Fire Chief and former Alexandria City Councilman Willie F. Bailey has been helping get kids ready for school every August with an annual backpack drive. Under the auspices of the nonprofit Firefighters and Friends to the Rescue, which Bailey founded and with the support of Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department and Alexandria’s Fire Department he oversees the collection and distribution of approximately 3,000 backpacks filled with school supplies for children who otherwise would not have them.
This year volunteers and kids connected at the Charles Houston Recreation Center at 901 Wythe Street in Old Town, Alexandria where eager youngsters lined up to choose among the towering piles of brightly colored, brand new backpacks.
Bailey was selected as an Alexandria Living Legend in 2013 and it is little wonder why. His impressive bio is too comprehensive to print here, but the T.C. Williams’ graduate continues his community generosity every October when he leads the collection and distribution of some 3,000 new coats for Operation Warm. “If a child doesn’t have a warm coat to wait at the bus stop, that child is not going to go to school. Also, there is a chance that child is on free or reduced lunch so they will miss two nutritional meals that day. And the fact that it’s a new warm coat helps build the child’s self-esteem,” said Bailey.
And each December he mobilizes his forces to collect funds from the community to purchase and distribute toys to needy children for the holidays. The basement level of Fire Station 11 looks like a satellite of Santa’s workshop. Bailey says he knows all too well how hard the holidays can be. His parents moved to Alexandria in the 1960’s from southern Virginia.
“We didn’t have a lot,” he said. “We had six kids, my parents came here to look for work. I remember my parents going around to events like this to try to find gifts for their children. So,to me, I’m just paying it forward.”
If you would like to volunteer or donate, visit www.ffandfriends2therescue.org for more information.