For many Plano Police officers, serving the community is more than just catching the bad guys. Since 1984, the Plano Police Association Christmas Cops program has worked every year to help families who might otherwise not have the merriest Christmas.
There are a couple ways the department identifies those who need a little extra holiday cheer. If an officer makes a call to a residence and sees the family has a financial need, that officer might refer them to the program. School resource officers also may identify student families who appear to need some help.
Starting in the fall, Christmas Cops begin placing donation boxes at various businesses to collect things like toys, food, coats and household necessities. They also accept financial donations throughout the year. This money is used to purchase food items.
As the calendar gets closer to Christmas, officers complete referral forms detailing each family member as well as their ages, sizes and Christmas wishes. According to Officer Heather Bowden, the most popular items are winter coats and bicycles. All families also receive food boxes, and baby supplies if needed.
“Once we receive the donations, we take them to the warehouse, sort and organize the toys, and begin packing boxes,” she says. “Getting the boxes packed in just a few days is a HUGE undertaking.”
That huge undertaking requires 12-hour days for more than a week to ensure everything is ready for the pick-up date. One of those days is dedicated solely to packing food boxes, which is another massive undertaking.
According to Heather, COVID-19 has driven demand for the program even higher this year. Almost 350 families, some with multiple children, received some form of assistance.
Members of the community have stepped up as well. Every year, residents at the Legacy Willow Bend senior community donate hand-knitted scarves, hats and dolls. This year they donated 520 items – 100 more than last year. Officers have found that kids love receiving things made just for them, as some of the children more often receive hand-me-downs or secondhand items.
Officer Aaron Graham says he became a police officer simply because he wanted to help people. That’s also why he chooses to dedicate a significant amount of his time to the Christmas Cops program. He also sits on the board of both the Plano Police Association and Christmas Cops.
Aaron admits that volunteering to help with the holiday program means he and other officers have to sacrifice personal time with family, friends and commitments. There are many late nights and even weekends. He laments the fact that this year he had to see his son lose a tooth over FaceTime because he was busy getting gifts together in the warehouse. Still, it’s what he believes he is supposed to do.
As Aaron sees it, making sacrifices to help the community is something that law enforcement officers regularly do. In fact, committing to serving the community is something they vow to do before they are ever hired by the department.
“I believe in the power of volunteering, community service, serving others and giving back to the community,” he said. “It has never been in a law enforcement officer’s job description to make sure a needy family was served with a toy, food or clothing at Christmastime. However, the Plano Police Association Christmas Cops has stood in the gap for over 36 years doing just this.”
Distribution of Christmas Cops items was a little different this year. Families picked up their items via drive-through so that they could still adhere to COVID-19 safety protocols. Most won’t return next year because no family is permanently enrolled in this program. Families only receive gifts the year they are referred. Despite this, there has never been a shortage of referrals over the past 37 years.
As long as there are neighbors struggling to make it through the holidays, Plano’s Christmas Cops continue finding ways to make their Christmases merry and bright.Christmas Cops >