Local organizations provide Christmas for kids

Kristy Tallman

This year was a very successful year for Sweet Home’s police, fire and rescue’s efforts to help underprivileged children enjoy the Christmas season.

Since November, local members of the police department, fire and rescue, along with the Women’s Association, worked diligently to ensure children in the community had a nice Christmas.

The police station hosted the teen tree and Shop With a Cop while the fire and rescue departments hosted a youth tree for the younger children. In the Sharing Tree program, names of children and families were written on tags and placed on the sharing trees. Anyone who wanted to help those in need visited the age appropriate departments and chose a name or multiple names from the tree.

The teen tree hosted tags for children in grades seven to 12 while the youth tree hosted tags for children up to the age of 12. Each department had a busy season with the youth tree passing out 320 tags for 142 families. The police station’s Shop With a Cop program received 70 applications but were only able to choose 31 children, while their tree had 57 tags picked up. Tags that didn’t get picked up were taken care of by the departments.

Sean Morgan, community liaison for the Sweet Home Police Department, said they wish to look at the Shop With a Cop (SWAC) program for next year so more targeted children can participate in the event.

“The SWAC program’s goal is to take kids who’ve been in traumatic situations where police officers were present, where the situation may have been kind of rough,” he said. “It’s to give the kids a good experience with a police officer in a different sort of environment and circumstance.”

Currently the program is such that the children who qualify for the youth tree could also qualify for the program, but with the intended goals they wish to narrow this to helping restore relationships with those who may not have had such a pleasant experience with an officer involved event.

Janine Bondesen, co-coordinator with the Women’s Association for the fire department along with Heather Harris, were the oil that kept the wheels turning throughout the year for the youth tree. They worked behind the scenes for donations that allowed for the children’s presents to be purchased. They were also the keepers of the tags that were not claimed for the youth tree, which meant a shopping trip for them when tags are left over. This year for the youth tree only six tags remained and for the teen tree only three were left for the department to shop for.

The event was fueled by community donations and included events like the Thanksgiving breakfast hosted by Angila Tact Foods, which had a super successful event and, according to Morgan, were sold out by 10:30 that morning.

“The event was very successful this year,” Bondesen said, adding a special highlight to the involvement of the community.

“I think that the community involvement, the groups that continue to support us, there’s churches that come and support us, the high school and the junior high leadership team both come and grab about 20 tags each,” he said. “We have other entities like sports teams and cheerleading who came in and grabbed a family of multiple kids and gifted that family and shopped for them, but we have great continued support from different groups around town. I think the community support this year was outstanding.”

Morgan also spoke highly of the donors who made the event possible and the success it was.

He stated, “I want to give a shout out to this community. They keep these programs going. We wouldn’t be able to do this without them. Our community is doing this. It’s not the police department. We just execute this piece of it.”

He also gave a big shout out to the efforts of Angila Tact Foods.

“ATF services cut a check from the Thanksgiving breakfast then a donation of their own on top of that, even donating the food for this event,” Morgan said. “So the community support was absolutely overwhelming. ATF services were huge in this year’s deal. They’ve been doing this donation, this breakfast for several years. Then they gave us an extra donation and they covered the cost of our Shop With a Cop entirely. It was amazing. We couldn’t make this happen without them.”

All in all the event proved to be a wonderful experience for the children and those who worked very hard to make the event possible. It took a village, especially in these times, and the community truly stepped up to make this a grand event for all.