Keeping kids warm, brightening an otherwise economically bleak Christmas and spreading holiday cheer are annual holiday season goals of the O’Fallon Police Department’s community outreach mission.
Throughout November and December, the city’s police force is active in charitable causes that emphasize their efforts to give back to the community: Warners’ Warm-Up coat drive, Kids and Cops shopping event and Breakfast with Santa are their traditional programs each year.
Captain Eric Van Hook encourages the department to take part in these festive activities to build rapport with residents.
“The police officers and their families like to give back to the community that is so supportive of them. Their efforts are an example of how our officers approach their job every day,” he said.
For several weeks until Nov. 14, the police place a box in the Public Safety building lobby to collect new or gently used coats for Warners’ Warm-Up. Retired captain Mark Berry started the department participation years ago.
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Former St. Louis Rams Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, along with his wife Brenda, operate this annual coat drive, which they started in 2001. The bi-state program is now run through the Kurt Warner First Things First Foundation, based in Phoenix, and Operation Food Search of St. Louis is the local co-organizer and distribution partner.
“Once we collect the coats, we take them to Operation Food Search in St Louis. That is the hub of Warners’ Warm-Up,” Lt. Kirk Brueggeman said.
“We do this program because it is another opportunity to give back. We are blessed to have the backing of a very generous community and when we have an opportunity to facilitate something like this, we jump right in,” Brueggeman said.
The O’Fallon Police Department will host their annual Breakfast with Santa on Saturday, Dec. 15, from 8 to 11 a.m. at Amelia Carriel Junior High School. A complimentary breakfast will be served to everyone from 8 to 10 a.m., and Santa will be on hand starting at 8:30 a.m.
“We will have craft stations for all the kids as well,” Brueggeman said.
Volunteers, often from the PD’s Citizen Academy, help children make holiday ornaments and other crafts, while live music from O’Fallon Township High School students is performed. Photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus are offered, too.
Last year, more than 150 children attended.
“This event is entirely free. However, we will be collecting donations – canned goods – for the O’Fallon Food Pantry and unwrapped Toys for Tots for those who wish to donate,” Brueggeman said.
Sgt. Eric Buck is the program coordinator for Cops and Kids this year, which is often called “Shop with a Cop.”
Last year, during the Christmastime Cops and Kids event at Walmart, 17 officers, from patrolman to chief, and a police dispatcher, helped bring comfort and joy to about 50 children.
Children, ages 5 to 10, in kindergarten through third grade, are selected from O’Fallon School District 90 and Central School District 104, based on recommendations from school social workers and counselors. They are then treated to a shopping spree on a December Sunday morning.
Police sergeant Mike Mojzis chaired the 16th annual event sponsored by the O’Fallon Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 198 last year, and it was the largest number helped, thanks to community donations. In 2016, 40 children benefitted.
“We have a good partnership with the schools. We send permission slips, and the parents return them,” he said.
Each child receives $250 to purchase gifts. Some children chose to spend a portion on gifts for family members. The police encourage them to purchase the basics, like clothes, but they also make sure the children get some toys.
The officers’ union helps fund the program, along with community partners, including Walmart, which has participated since it started. The PD usually receives a grant for $2,500. Proceeds from the PD’s golf tournament are used.
Businesses often contribute. Kloss Furniture held a fundraiser for the program on Nov. 17, offering to donate 5 percent of each sale. Officers attended to show support.
“The support we receive from our small businesses in O’Fallon is second to none. Kloss furniture, a local family-owned furniture store, recently held a one-day event to raise money for our Cops and Kids. Proud to say that in just one day they raised $2,500,” Brueggeman said.
Courage and Grace designs, a DIY paint studio, raised $1,625 through a workshop fundraiser in October.
They asked for $10 donations and provided a shelf sitter for people to paint and customize, with materials provided, plus offered balloons and snacks. Officers were on hand too.
“They are just one of many small businesses in O’Fallon that makes a difference,” he said.
The program has been able to grow because of unsolicited donations.
“Being able to help families provide a great Christmas is awesome, and the gratitude demonstrated by the families and children is amazing. This is always a special day for all of us,” Mojzis said after last year’s event.