KENT: It may have felt like a soggy, overcast April day, but the Christmas spirit was in the air at the Walgreens on South Water Street on Saturday as six officers from the Kent Police Department hosted the third annual Fill-A-Cruiser event to collect toys, food and cash donations to help needy children and families during the holiday season.
The cruiser was actually the department's prisoner transport van, chosen to provide enough space to carry the large pile of presents donated by members of the community. On an unseasonably warm late-fall day, Lt. Bob Treharn and his fellow officers set up in the parking lot in front of the store and spent five hours receiving toys, food items and cash that will be used to buy more toys to give to needy children.
The program is a partnership with the local chapter of Catholic Charities, the largest private network of social service organizations in the United States, which compiles the list of people for the department to help.
Gifts of all shapes and sizes were donated, from board games and stuffed animals to the two dozen bikes and scooters given by an anonymous donor who gives a similar gift each year but asks not to receive any individual recognition, according to Treharn.
The toys are given to children as young as newborns, up through age 17. This year's youngest recipient, according to Treharn, will be a one-month-old baby whose first Christmas will be marked with a gift from someone she has never met.
An estimated 50 families will receive gifts from the program this year, and the food donated will be divided up and distributed evenly amongst those on the list.
Collecting the gifts is only part of the battle, as 15 volunteers gathered Sunday morning to wrap all of the items and make sure they are ready to be delivered in the days ahead.
"We wrap everything ourselves, about 15 people will get together tomorrow to do that," Treharn added.
Once the items are wrapped, officers deliver them to recipients' homes in their cruisers, a sight Treharn, a 16-year veteran with the department, said typically receives a joyous reaction from the children.
"They think it's pretty cool when the cruiser rolls up and they get their gift," he said.
All of the officers who collected gifts volunteered their time and from the looks on their faces, none minded giving up a large chunk of their day off to stand in a parking lot on a drizzly, overcast day without being paid. Deliveries are also made by officers volunteering their time.
Many of those who donated came by simply to drop off their gifts, but others learned of the event when they showed up and bought items inside to add to the collection.
By the end of the afternoon, the back of the prisoner transport van was filled with gifts that will soon find their way under the Christmas trees of children throughout Kent. Treharn and Officer John Gormsen appreciated the irony of transporting Christmas gifts in a space commonly reserved for prisoners but were happy to have more welcome cargo in the van for one day out of the year.