The Springfield Police Division’s Operation Santa has worked to aid families at Christmas for more than 25 years but staffing shortages will mean some changes this year.
Every year officers and volunteers held a Christmas party at the police substation on Johnny Lytle Avenue with Santa to give out the toys they’d bought with donations. But due to low manpower in the division, a party won’t be held this year, Community Response Team Officer Thomas Selner said.
Officers and volunteers will still assist families, buying about $6,000 of gifts. The gifts will go to 18 families with 65 children. The gifts will be delivered to families this week.
“I get recommendations from officers, people calling in saying they needed help from my neighborhood groups … and they recommend families that need help just to get them through the holidays,” Selner said.
He and students from Shawnee and Springfield high schools shopped last week at Meijer and Walmart to find items for the children.
Kids love to get new toys from Operation Santa, Selner said, but Springfield officers also talk to the families to see what else they need, such as winter coats, hats, shoes or other clothing.
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Springfield High School junior Annmeri Turner and her family have been shopping for Operation Santa for years. It’s a way she can give back to the community, she said
“The holidays can be hard with money and we are fortunate enough where we don’t have that issue … I know these kids are going to wake up on Christmas morning and they are going to have presents under their tree,” Turner said.
Donations from the stores, private donations and fundraisers by Springfield police officers cover the cost of the gifts, Selner said.
“I’m not wearing a tie,” he said. “We paid $40 to get the option of not wearing a tie for the whole month of November. Usually the chief extends that until the end of the year. So all that money goes to the Christmas program.”
Officers get a good feeling when they see the happiness and surprise on families’ faces when they know gifts will be under the tree on Christmas day, Selner said.
“They are happy of course because they know they know they are going to have a good Christmas,” he said. “I think they are sort of shocked too a little bit too because they see us in a different light.”
Often people see officers arresting someone, Selner said.
“This way they look at it and see the good side of us and how we are there to help and we are all working together,” he said.