Local Youth & young adult

Program pairs police with underprivileged children to buy Christmas gifts

Lenexa Police Officer Natasha Valerio was a Blue Santa to Danick. After shopping, the two wrapped his family’s gifts, played games and ate pizza together. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

by Jill Ragar Esfeld

LENEXA — “Scared and excited” was how students told Lenexa Police Chief Dawn Layman they felt before meeting their Blue Santas.

After all, being picked up at school in a patrol car could be a little scary. But being driven to Walmart for a shopping spree?

That’s exciting.

Blue Santa, formally known as Shop with a Cop, is a program that matches local police officers with underprivileged children to buy Christmas gifts for their families.

Officer Baker chats with a young woman while they work on a craft at the Shop with a Cop event. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

This year, the Lenexa Police Department joined forces with the Knights of Columbus from Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, to make Blue Santa a true community event.

“Nine underprivileged kids were selected from nine different schools in our area,” explained Grand Knight JD Call.

The fifth and sixth grade students were identified by teachers and faculty as coming from families in need of assistance.

“What these cops do is take each one of these kids in a police car out to the Walmart on Johnson Drive,” said Call. “They give them $300 to spend to buy presents for their families.”

Officer Michael Gevertz watches as a boy makes a craft during the Shop with a Cop event. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

Officer Derrick Pierce, the student resource officer for St. James Academy, was heartened by the children’s priorities when shopping.

“It’s just neat to see a kid think of other people besides themselves when they have the money to buy things,” he said. “It’s usually they put their parents and their siblings first before they shop for themselves.”

After the Walmart spree, the Blue Santas brought their shoppers to Holy Trinity’s Father Quigley Center for games, crafts, gift wrapping and a visit from Santa.

The Daughters of Isabella and members of the parish youth group were on hand to facilitate the fun.

Officer Brandon Hoch talks with a young man while he works on a craft at the Shop with a Cop event. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

It didn’t take long for the kids to see past the uniform and warm up to their Blue Santas. And that’s always a goal when police are involved in outreach programs.

 “We feel like we serve our community every day,” said Officer Danny Chavez. “But we’re always looking for these types of partnerships as well.

“Because for many people, unfortunately, their only interaction with law enforcement is maybe the worst day of their life — a car crash, something tragic happening.”

“But for these young people, and the Knights and these volunteers here,” he continued, “they’re getting to interact with our department in a way that’s a little bit different and fun.”

Officer Baker and her Blue Santa buddy play a game of ladder toss at the Shop with a Cop event. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

The evening ended with a pizza party and ice cream bar.

Along with wrapped gifts, each child went home with provisions for a complete meal and a gift card to spend on a turkey or ham.

 “We started this, and the Knights of Columbus came together in partnership to make it work,” said Officer Todd Seay, a member of Holy Trinity Parish.

“Being Catholic means taking that servant approach to things,” he said.  “Being able to do that professionally and personally, I don’t think you could ask for anything better, especially at this time of year.”

Even Santa Claus came to visit the children participating in the Shop with a Cop event. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JILL RAGAR ESFELD

This first collaborative effort between the Knights of Columbus and the Lenexa Police Department was a resounding success in spreading the Christmas spirit.

“It’s really about that sense of community and that gift of giving,” said Layman. “These volunteers are giving their time to somebody else, and to me that’s more valuable than anything.

“Being a police officer is about serving others. That’s pretty well in alignment with the philosophy of any religion.”

About the author

Jill Esfeld

Jill Ragar Esfeld received a degree in Writing from Missouri State University and started her profession as a magazine feature writer, but quickly transitioned to technical/instructional writing where she had a successful career spanning more than 20 years. She returned to feature writing when she began freelancing for The Leaven in 2004. Her articles have won several awards from the Catholic Press Association. Jill grew up in Christ the King parish in Kansas City, Missouri; and has been a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kansas, for 35 years.

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