COVID can’t deter Cops, Kids, and Christmas
Author: Steven Spearie, State Journal Register
Photographer: Justin Fowler
Published 6:38 p.m. CT, December 17, 2020
It has been an admittedly tough year for Alissa Smith of Springfield.
Smith lost her job because she had to quarantine, even though she tested negative for COVID-19.
So seeing smiles on the faces of three of her children, Josie, a first-grader, Bailey, a fourth-grader, and Keagen, a fifth-grader, all students at Fairview Elementary School, was a bit of a respite.
All three got presents from a Springfield police officer as part of Police Benevolent and Protective Association Unit #5’s Cops, Kids and Christmas event Thursday.
“This makes it a lot better,” admitted Smith, who has seven children from ages 3 to 13. “There are a lot of good people in our community. It’s a big blessing to our family.”
Amy Miller, a parent educator at Fairview, said the school has had a partnership with the PBPA #5 for the last six years. Normally, officers and kids meet on a Saturday, have breakfast and then go shopping at Meijer.
Like a lot things, COVID-19 threw a wrench into plans, Miller said.
Rather than cancel the event, Miller said, both sides got creative.
Students and families filled out information sheets, and staff members from Fairview shopped with officers, who then wrapped the presents.
Officers were on hand at the north side school as parents drove up and the gifts were placed in vehicles.
Staff members at the school could pick one or two students for the program, and 55 students in all, Miller said, got presents.
“For us, this was huge, to still have it,” said Officer Tami Russell, who is vice president of the PBPA #5, while donning a red Santa Claus suit Thursday. “We wanted to make sure it happened, and we tried to stay COVID-compliant the whole time.”
Russell said this year might be a template for the way the event is handled in the future. Officers “got to be the little kids picking out this fun stuff and wrapping it. It’s more of a true traditional Santa because they get to open the presents and be surprised instead of just seeing it as we buy (the gifts).”
Miller said one of the beneficial parts of the program is that it breaks down barriers between the kids and police officers.Get the Inside Illinois Politics newsletter in your inbox.
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“They realize officers are kind and they’re human and they’re funny,” Miller said.
“Some of these kids never need us unless it’s an emergency and it’s really traumatic,” Russell said. “We want them to know we’re real people and we enjoy these holidays and want to make it just as fun for them.”
Samantha Thomas said it has been stressful this holiday season. Thomas, a health care worker, was picking up presents with her kids, Brenden, a kindergartner, and Andre, a second-grader, at Fairview.
“To be able to have a little joy like this makes it feel more like Christmas, not like a pandemic so much,” Thomas said.
“2020 has stunk for everyone, and we just wanted these kids to have a good Christmas,” Russell added.
PBPA #5 raised funds for gifts through a cash raffle last month.
Contact Steven Spearie at 622-1788, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/@StevenSpearie.