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- MC seniors capture first place at Science Olympiad
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- Fast times at Warwick Driving Park
- Pretzel Fest returns May 6
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This Blue Christmas is one full of smiles
Regional police officers become ‘Santa’s Helpers’ for local families in need
This year will be a Blue Christmas for some children in Northern Lancaster County.
And that’s a good thing.
The Northern Lancaster County Regional Police Department is once again coordinating its Blue Christmas project, providing toys and gifts to 56 children in 20 families in Warwick, Clay, and Penn townships.
The project started many years ago in Warwick Township, and then expanded its reach when the regional department was created five years ago. Blue Christmas is now organized by Detective Theresa Stauffer, now in her 17th year with the police department, having started with Penn Township police. It’s a project that is very close to her heart.
“We do this to give back,” says Stauffer. “Every police officer that I work with got into this field with a mission of serving others. I don’t think there’s a better feeling in this world than being able to help someone and make a difference in their lives. Even if it’s just something small. We all live within this community. Our children attend the same schools as the families we deal with at work. We do this to give back to our community.”
For the children who receive Christmas gifts, it’s nothing small.
When they open their presents, they will be grateful for the hard work and service that the police department has provided, even if the youngest ones are thanking Santa Claus.
Stauffer gets started in early November. She contacts local school districts and reaches out to the Lititz Warwick Community Chest to identify families that could use a helping hand during Christmas.
“After contacting the parents of the children, I gather a list of items that the children need and want,” says Stauffer.
She prepares tags with the items on them. Then she checks with businesses throughout their jurisdiction, and a few outside of it, to see if they will agree to take a tag or two. For those businesses that prefer to donate money for the gifts, Stauffer and her helpers go shopping.
“The majority of our donations come from the generous employees that work for these businesses,” explains Stauffer, adding that these employees include mechanics, waitresses, cashiers, auctioneers, and administrative workers.
The one thing that has hit home for her is that generosity isn’t only for the rich. Helping others and giving means a lot more when it comes from ordinary people. Even the smallest of gifts makes a big difference to these families.
Surprisingly, the children who request gifts are not looking for fancy presents. Instead of expensive technology like iPads and video games, their requests are often more modest, like dolls, toy cars, trucks, Barbies, Shopkins, board games, and warm mittens and hats.
The families’ names are always kept confidential. There have been several times over the years when a family who receives gifts turns around the next year to spread the joy and pay it forward to other families who need some help.
Stauffer credits Chief David Steffen with fostering the Blue Christmas initiative.
“The chief graciously permits me to organize this and use our agency’s resources. He definitely sees the big picture and realizes that our mission is to be a service to our community. He understands that this service means so much more than just delivering a few gifts,” says Stauffer.
Steffen helps with wrapping gifts and delivering them too. In fact, most of the police officers and administrative staff helps out by contributing additional gifts, organizing the gifts, wrapping them and and delivering to families. Even some of the officers’ children help with delivery.
The Blue Christmas ‘Santas’ show up a little earlier than the guy in the red suit. After all, they are police officers, and delivering gifts has to be coordinated with their police duties.
On Dec. 22, they load up the packaged gifts into their patrol cars and step in for Santa. The gifts are wrapped and ready to go, and each child on the list receives about a dozen presents.
Stauffer is amazed at how many people donate to Blue Christmas. As she points out, it is the employees at many of these big businesses who are the biggest contributors, such as employees at the Webstaurant Store in Manheim Township, and the Target store in Warwick Township.
Even smaller, family-owned businesses have joined in with open hearts and open wallets, with Christmas trees from Buckhill Farms and movie tickets and popcorn from Penn Cinema.
“I keep joking that I’m finally finished gathering everything and someone will either call saying that they wish to donate or we’ll receive a check. Then I call the school or food bank and get another family name,” says Stauffer.
The only thanks the generous volunteers ask for is a simple photograph. Stauffer asks families to send a picture of the children opening their gifts on Christmas morning. Then she passes along the picture, often with a note of thanks, to the sponsors who made that Blue Christmas possible.
“It allows the families to pass along their message of gratitude, and the donors to have a face to connect to their contribution,” says Stauffer.
Organizing the Blue Christmas project takes a lot of time and coordination, but it’s worth it to Stauffer and her team of ‘elves.’
“What makes this special is knowing that these gifts go to children in our community,” she says. “It’s about lending a hand to our neighbors and coming together as a community to offer support.”
Laura Knowles is a local freelance feature writer and regular contributor to the pages of the Record Express. She welcomes reader feedback and story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Laura Knowles
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