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Cops bring Christmas comfort to Plano families
Photo courtesy of Christmas Cops -- Last year's Christmas Cops donation drive saw Plano police officers and volunteers provide 280 families with food, gifts, clothes and household essentials. The initiative, which is organized every year by current and former Plano police officers and volunteers, is underway again, and 350 donation boxes have been placed at businesses and public buildings around the city.
Police officers are all too familiar with the effects of poverty. In their day-to-day work, they are often in contact with families who barely have enough to stay afloat, much less afford holiday gifts or dinners.
That's why, in 1984, a group of Plano police officers launched the Christmas Cops program -- an initiative to provide in-need families with winter coats, blankets, essential household items, children's toys and two weeks' worth of non-perishable food during the holiday season.
"Those few officers started out helping a few families the first year, and it just took off and grew," said Harry Manning, a retired Plano police officer of 30 years and a 20-year Christmas Cops volunteer. "Last year, we served 280 families, about 800 children and just a little over 1,200 total people."
Families can only be included in the program if they are referred by a Plano police officer. If the family is verified to not be receiving any other assistance, they are eligible to have boxes of donated items delivered on the Saturday before Christmas, which falls on Dec. 22 this year.
Items are gathered from throughout the community via 350 donation boxes, which are placed at businesses, libraries and public buildings across the city. Items are individually delivered to the families by Plano police employees, Citizen's Police Academy graduates and other volunteers.
"Obviously, there's a lot of gratitude," Manning said. "There have been times when the children were present when we came in, and the box with the toys and coats is open ... We also bring in the boxes of non-perishable food, and there have been times when the children ran past the box with the toys in it to the food."
Sometimes, the department is able to help families with special, unique needs. The program has provided families with everything from a new hot water heater to an accessible vehicle retrofit for a mother who had lost both of her legs to disease.
"[A local business] provided the parts at cost, which we paid for, and they did the installation for free," Manning said. "That converted her vehicle to a hands-only operation, and she was able to then start doing all the things you need a vehicle to do for a family."
Plano PD Sgt. Courtney Pero has participated in Christmas Cops program for 20 years. He said while the department is involved with a lot of positive programs, Christmas Cops provides a unique opportunity for officers to interact with the residents they serve.
"It's nice for police officers to have an opportunity to interact with segments of our population in a very proactive, positive nature," he said. "We don't have as much of an opportunity, just by the nature of our job, to do that. A lot of times, when we're interacting with people there's some kind of crisis, some kind of emergency ... but this is an opportunity to engage in a very positive manner with people in our community."
Donations will be collected from collection boxes on Dec. 14, Manning said. From there, it's eight days of "craziness and chaos," with officers emptying boxes, sorting gifts and putting together assistance packages for the families who will receive them.
Manning said he hopes the program plants the seed of giving in the families who benefit so they will one day be able to give back to their community when they get back on their feet.
"I would venture to say that almost everyone who goes into law enforcement, whether they're a sworn officer or they go in there in a civilian position, the reason they're there is they care about people, and that's really the crux of our program," he said.
Season of giving
The most-needed items for this year's Christmas Cops drive are coats for all sizes and genders, toys for 24-month-olds and younger, teen gift items such as hair care products, cologne, perfume, makeup, gift cards for music/videos, diapers in any size, and non-perishable food items.
Donations can be dropped off at Plano City Hall and any city of Plano library, fire station or police facility. A list of more than 200 businesses where donations can be dropped off can be found at http://www.christmascops.com/collection.php.
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