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 Abigail Paul, 5, gets her face painted at The Rainbow Connection’s annual Wish Family Picnic June 26 at Freedom Hill  County Park in Sterling Heights.

Abigail Paul, 5, gets her face painted at The Rainbow Connection’s annual Wish Family Picnic June 26 at Freedom Hill County Park in Sterling Heights.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

Firefighters take to grill for charity picnic

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published June 27, 2019


STERLING HEIGHTS — On a sunny summer day, Sterling Heights firefighters managed flames in a different capacity — they presided over the picnic grill while serving families with children who have life-threatening medical conditions.

The Sterling Heights Fire Department joined the annual Wish Family Picnic at Freedom Hill County Park June 26. The event, hosted by The Rainbow Connection, was expected to draw over 400 people from families that have received the charity’s support.

Activities included games, inflatable play structures, face painting, ice cream, ponies and motorcycles. Rainbow Connection Wish Director Ingrid Todt praised the Fire Department for its participation.

“The firemen come out. They cook the food. They bring out all the fire hoses,” she said. “It’s an incredible opportunity.”

The Rainbow Connection’s mission is to help Michigan kids with life-threatening illnesses or conditions make their dreams come true. The charity has completed over 3,500 wishes for Michigan kids since 1985.

Todt said her group started doing these picnics around 20 years ago, right around the time when the Fire Department helped grant a wish to a Sterling Heights child.

“It’s kind of like a big wish reunion, and it’s just a day where the families get together, have some fun and not have to worry about doctors appointments and hospital stays,” she said.

Todt said wish recipients tend to range between 2 and 18 years old and often are fighting conditions like cancer and blood disorders. Others need organ transplants, she explained.

She said the wish requests come from all over the state, and The Rainbow Connection grants around 150-160 each year.

“We are ready, willing and able to grant the wishes,” she said. “We’ve had no waiting list.”

Todt said the wishes fall into three main categories: going somewhere, getting something or meeting someone. Popular destination trips include Walt Disney World, the Bahamas and Hawaii, she said.

“We had a young person go to New York City to see ‘Hamilton’ and eat at a Michelin restaurant,” she said.

Todt said the average cost of a wish is about $5,000. She added that around 86 cents per dollar donated to the charity goes toward wishes.

“We have a very small staff, and we work very hard to make it  happen,” she added.

Besides the Fire Department, the other picnic sponsors included Allegiant Nonstop of Warren, the Children’s Foundation of Michigan, Guernsey Farms Dairy, Macomb County and Wolverine Harley-Davidson, Todt said.

Sterling Heights Fire Department Chief Chris Martin said his department has been doing the picnics for many years. He said the picnics moved to Freedom Hill in recent years “because of the size of the event.”

“The Fire Department just likes to make smiles,” he said. “If it means them cooking a meal or letting (attendees) use the fire hose or letting them play a game with them, that’s what the firefighters do it for.”

In a statement, Capt. Tony Lulek said he and his peers look forward to the picnic and are proud of their relationship with The Rainbow Connection.

“Having the opportunity to invite this many wish children to the annual picnic and providing them a worry-free afternoon is something that we look forward to doing each year,” he said.

Find out more about The Rainbow Connection by visiting Learn more about the Sterling Heights Fire Department by visiting or by calling (586) 446-2950.