Good News Blog


Thursday, Nov. 13, 2008

Livingston police ready for “Shop with a Cop”

The Sheriff Department of Livingston County is preparing for the sixth annual shop with a cop program.
In the shop with a cop program children from less affluent families are teamed up with a police officer. Together they will shop for Christmas gifts.

In a convoy of police guards to children and police officers drive from the elementary school to Wal-Mart. The shopping trip takes place December the sixth.

The trick completely depends on donations and the goal for this year is simple: help as many children as possible.

The Police Department accepts destinations but also asked people to buy a gift card from Wal-Mart to give that to the shop with a cop program.

The amount of money that each child can spend depends directly on the amount of money raised. In posteriors every child has been able to spend around hundred dollars.

Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2007

Angel Tree to help children of prisoners

The Jail Ministry of Otsego County and area churches are sponsoring the local Angel Tree project.

The project oversees collection, wrapping and distribution of Christmas gifts to children of prisoners in the local jail and to children of Otsego County prisoners who are jailed elsewhere.

According to the national Angel Tree organization, it is estimated that 2.3 million American children have an imprisoned parent.

“These kids are the unrecognized sad victims of crime,” said the Rev. Ameen Aswad, jail chaplain, in a news release. “The gifts we deliver assure some of them that they are loved by their parents, and that others in the community are concerned for them, too.”

Last year, the children helped ranged in age from infants to teens, and gifts included gloves, hats and scarves as well as toys, games, craft supplies, sports equipment, CDs and DVDs.

Many churches in Otsego County are collecting unwrapped gifts from donors among their members, and individuals outside the churches may deliver gifts through them.

In the Oneonta area, churches should deliver collection boxes to Main Street Baptist Church, 333 Main St., by Sunday.

Also Sunday, gift boxes in the Cooperstown area should be taken to Cooperstown United Methodist Church at the corner of Chestnut Street and Glen Avenue.

Volunteers will be wrapping gifts at 10 a.m. Dec. 13 at the Cooperstown United Methodist Church.

The wrapping is open to the public, the release said, and donations of gift-wrapping paper and transparent tape are welcomed.

Thursday, Dec. 6, 2007

Fox Lake police take kids on shopping spree

Police and village officials in Fox Lake on Wednesday helped give about 160 children a gift they’ll likely never forget.

The children, from Fox Lake and Ingleside, were treated to a $100 shopping spree at the Antioch Wal-Mart as part of the second annual Fox Lake Police Department Shop with a Cop program.

The event was started last year by Fox Lake Police Chief Mike Behan, who said this was his favorite community outreach program.

“This does two things: It gives back to the community and brings a sense of the holidays to a large amount of underprivileged children,” he said. “On top of that, these kids are able to meet a police officer when they are children, as opposed to when they grow up. Children remember that.”

The Shop with a Cop program was funded by a golf outing held over the summer that raised more than $19,000. Dockers Duffers and Dockers Restaurant in Fox Lake held the event specifically for the program.

Behan said parents were invited to shop for gifts with their children and that clothes, hats, gloves, scarves, coats, shoes and other amenities needed to keep children warm this winter were high on the list of items to be purchased.

However, children in the program also were able to pick out a toy for themselves.

“I think this is just a great program,” said parent Katie Helmer. “I don’t know who is more excited about it, me or the kids. But, truly, this is just something wonderful for us.”

The group gathered first at the police station, 303 S. Route 59, for pizza and drinks. Then they headed to Wal-Mart on Route 173 for the shopping spree.

Each child was escorted through the store by a police officer or volunteer, who pushed the cart, calculator in hand and added up the purchases.

About 20 officers volunteered to push carts and other village officials were brought in to help children pick out their items. Due to the high number of children taking part in the event, village officials were invited to help walk children around.

“This is always one of my favorite programs of the year,” said Trustee Ed Bender, who is in charge of the village board’s public safety committee. “I like to see the police department in a positive light like this and there is nothing more positive than this, especially around the holidays.”

Police departments around Lake County have annually pitched in through the Shop with a Cop program to help out underprivileged families during the holidays. Antioch police will host their fourth annual Shop with a Cop on Dec. 12 at the same Wal-Mart Super Center.

While parents delighted throughout the evening at the new boots and the coats children received, children were most excited about the toys.

“I want to get a bunch of things,” said 4-year-old Taylor Patricia Goebel of Fox Lake. “But I really want Dora the Explorer. That’s my favorite.”

Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2007

Kids, officers — all enjoy a Christmas shopping trip

First the kids got to fill up on fun stuff like pizza and cupcakes and soft drinks. Then they were able to fill a shopping cart with Christmas gifts for themselves and family and friends.

It was a special night for 64 underprivileged children in Sheboygan County, as area law enforcement officers escorted the youngsters on a special holiday shopping spree at the Target store at Deertrace Center in Kohler, for the 11th annual Shop With a Cop program.

“We did the pizza and we did all the stuff and we got to ride in a cop car and then turn the lights on,” said Jenny Koehler, 30, of Sheboygan, whose 4-year-old son, Ashton, placed some Power Rangers toys into his cart.

Alex Ruiz, 5, who was hot for Ben 10 cartoon character action figures, also remembered to get a few gifts for his mom, Christina Ruiz.

“He got me some mittens and a scarf,” said Christina Ruiz, 24, of Sheboygan.

Each child received $100 to spend, and was paired with a uniformed officer from several law enforcement agencies, including Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Department deputies and corrections officers, the Plymouth Police Department and Sheboygan Falls Police Department. The local Coast Guard unit also has several members participating. Children were recommended for the program by area social service agencies.

“What’s nice is it gives these kids a first and hopefully long-lasting impression that law enforcement officers are people they can come to instead of run from,” Sheboygan County Sheriff Mike Helmke said.

Many area service organizations and businesses donated the funds needed for the pizza party and the shopping trip, estimated at about $10,000.

The pizza party was held at Lakeshore Lanes in Sheboygan, which provided the use of the hall and the soft drinks for the kids and their families. The cookies and cupcakes were donated by the county’s child support enforcement agency, Helmke said. The children also got to have their photos taken with Santa Claus before being whisked away for shopping.

Officers who participate do so on their own time, Helmke said.

“It’s a great program,” said Marla Meier, a Sheboygan County corrections officer, who has been involved with Shop With a Cop for several years. “It’s nice for the law enforcement to be seen in a positive light and giving back to these families.”

Amanda Drowns, 27, of Plymouth, who brought her 4-year-old twins Zoe and Autumn, and 7-year-old son Damien, was appreciative of being selected for the event.

“This is excellent, the police officers take their time from their own families to do this with our families,” Drowns said.

Christal Mallmann, 23, was with her daughter, Chantel, 5, who was picking out some Dora the Explorer toys and a Disney Princess DVD. Chantel said her favorite toy was Sleeping Beauty. Accompanying the Mallmanns was Paul Rickmeier, a Sheriff’s Department corrections officer, and his 12-year-old daughter, Hayley.

“A lot of children become afraid of police officers; this lets them know that he’s not here to be afraid of, but someone who can help and be a friend,” Christal Mallmann said.

Helmke said he’s been involved with Shop With a Cop since it started in 1997 with 29 kids. He’s happy the community has helped with donations to keep it going and growing, and that the children involved are also in the giving spirit.

“What’s heartwarming is not only do these kids shop for themselves … they will think of other family members, parents, grandparents, siblings and they will buy them something,” Helmke said. “That’s nice to see they’re not only thinking of themselves, but thinking of others.”

That’s exactly what Karly Wise, 10, of Sheboygan Falls, was thinking when she picked out some clothes items for herself and a set of Lincoln Logs for someone else in the family.

“I’m not showing him, though,” Karly said.

Secret Santa hands out $20,000 in Phoenix

Paul Schernberg has been homeless for the past year, flopping in cheap motels or walking the streets at night to save money.

Each week, from his job as a waiter, he squirreled away as much as he could – usually about $3 – to someday get an apartment.

Schernberg was $103 from that goal when he walked into a Phoenix thrift store on Tuesday to buy his sister a Christmas present. He left with $200, thanks to a Secret Santa he had never met before and would never see again.

“Oh, my God, I’m going to be in a home,” Schernberg said. “This means Christmas again. I hadn’t thought of Christmas for a long time.”

A mystery Santa came early to Phoenix on Tuesday to dole out money to people who needed a holiday boost. Nearly $20,000 was given away by Santa and his crew of elves.

It’s part of a holiday tradition that began 28 years ago when Larry Stewart, a Kansas City businessman, started handing out $100 bills after he had made his first million. Stewart died earlier this year, but his legacy continues. Phoenix is the first of five cities nationwide that will be visited this year. About $150,000 will be anonymously given away.

“The person who gets it gets some sort of connection,” said Santa, who wants to be known only as a Kansas City businessman. “It’s not just about the money. It’s the act. Somebody cares. For them, it gives them hope.

“This Secret Santa stuff is all about love, and it’s unconditional. This is something that is priceless, and it’s irreplaceable.”

On Tuesday morning, Sabrina Martinez was flipping through clothes at a thrift store, searching for Christmas gifts for her five children.

“I was kinda looking for stuff with tags on them, so they look new,” Martinez said.

That’s when Santa walked up, handed her $300 and disappeared. Tears filled Martinez’s eyes. She could buy her children a real Christmas tree and presents to go under it.

“It’s a blessing,” she said. “I feel like I won the lottery.”

The only thing Santa asks in return is that recipients of the money do something nice for someone else. That’s what got Stewart started in the first place.

Back in 1971, Stewart was homeless, penniless and hungry in Mississippi when he went to a local diner and ordered a breakfast he couldn’t pay for. When the bill came, Stewart acted like he had lost his wallet. The diner’s owner reached under his stool and appeared to pick up a $20 bill.

“Son,” he said, “you must have dropped this.”

Stewart promised if he was ever in a position to help someone else, he would.

Stewart’s goal was to have a Secret Santa in every major U.S. city, something those who are carrying on his tradition hope to achieve.

For six hours Tuesday, Santa and his elves cruised the streets, doling out crisp bills stamped with Larry Stewart’s name. Former Arizona Diamondback left fielder Luis Gonzalez joined the group, as did Phoenix police officers and a firefighter.

At the Thomas J. Pappas School for homeless children, Santa told Stewart’s story to 14 children, giving each of them their own $20 bill.

“That’s nice,” a girl gushed as she held the bill, then tucked it into her pocket.

Every child at the school received a coloring book.

“This world is full of hope. This world is full of dreams,” Santa told the children. “You can be whatever you want to be, just like Secret Santa.”

At the Early home, there was no Christmas tree, no holiday decorations. Rebecca and Lino Early buried their 10-year-old son, Joseph, in November, after he succumbed to a rare form of cancer. The Earlys thought members of the Phoenix Fire Department were making a follow-up visit when Santa showed up. He heard about the couple’s three other children and the nephew they took in when his mother died.

Santa handed them $1,000.

“This will go to the kids. Thank you,” Rebecca said. “The kids were always asking for this and that. I was telling them it wasn’t going to be normal and not to wish for many things. We’re maybe not even going to have a Christmas. Thanks to you guys, it’s going to look better for them, and they’re going to be happy.”

Along his journey, Santa and his elves gave $100 to a homeless man pushing all his belongings in a shopping cart, to a mother buying a bike for her 9-year-old son and to a man looking for a jacket for his stepdaughter’s funeral.

Angel Garza was waiting for a bus to El Paso with his pregnant fiancee and two children. The family’s apartment in California had been robbed, and they left with $400 and the clothes on their backs. That was four days ago. They had just spent their last $7 on corndogs for the kids when Santa handed them $300. Tears trickled down Garza’s cheek.

“We don’t have no clothes. We don’t have nothing,” Garza said. “It really is going to help.”

Thelma Cooper could barely speak after Gonzalez bought her a Christmas tree at a Phoenix thrift store. Earlier Tuesday, Cooper had been at the store to buy girls’ dresses to donate to charity. She returned to buy the tree for her mother but didn’t have enough money.

“God just blessed me back,” Cooper said through tears.

Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2007

Police put cheer into Christmas

For the past seven years, Lane Dorsey’s immune system has suffered because she was born with two holes in her heart.

Her dad died when she was six weeks old, and her mother hasn’t been able to work because Lane can’t go to day care or school.

“I don’t take her out in public because of her immune system,” said Lane’s mother, Sandra Jones. “She’s sick right now and she hasn’t been out of the house in a week, but she picked up that thing that’s going around from people who have come over.

“We just have to be very careful.”

But one outdoor trip Lane won’t be missing is the Dec. 8 “Shop with a Cop” excursion at Target planned by the local Fraternal Order of Police lodge.

For the past two years, Lane participated in the annual program that pairs law enforcement officers with needy families so children can experience a better Christmas.

“Financially, it’s been very hard, but ‘Shop with a Cop’ has helped her enjoy Christmas,” Jones said. “It gives my daughter a chance to participate in Christmas when ordinarily, she wouldn’t get a chance to.”

“Shop with a Cop” has been an annual program on and off for about 16 years in Nash and Edgecombe counties, but the FOP Lodge No. 46 resurrected the program four years ago.

“This year, our goal is to take 15 to 20 children out of all age ranges,” said Tonya Sconyers, a probation/parole officer and the local FOP president.

Most of the children will be chosen from the Twin Counties, but the FOP also is including a Franklin County family, which recently lost its home to fire.

“Each child will be paired with a law enforcement officer at the store, and they’ll pick out necessities like clothes, shoes, a jacket and one toy,” Sconyers said.

Jones called “Shop with a Cop” a wonderful program, one that her daughter refuses to miss.

“She absolutely loves it, so we’ll be there,” Jones said.

Sharpsburg police officers also will be spreading a little holiday cheer when they take a group of children shopping on Dec. 22 at Wal-Mart. Called Operation Blue Christmas, Sharpsburg police debuted the program a year ago.

“Last year, for every $100 we raised, we spent it on the kids, so we helped 30 kids,” Sharpsburg Police Chief B.C. Bissette said. “This year, we wanted to make it more family-oriented.”

For each family, Bissette said, $100 will go toward groceries, $100 toward utility bills and $100 for the child’s shopping spree.

“Less kids, but more benefit to the family,” Bissette said.

The FOP’s fundraisers throughout the year already have generated enough money to pay for this year’s “Shop with a Cop,” but Sharpsburg police still are looking for both donations and nominations of area families who need help around the holidays.

Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2007

The Salvation Army Angel Tree Kick Off

This Thursday, November 8 at 5:00 p.m., the Salvation Army will kick-off its annual Angel Tree program. Dan Brennan and Shelby Mitchell of WKSJ will emcee the event which takes place in Colonial Bel Air Mall between the mall entrance to Dillard’s and the main entrance to the Mall.
The evening will feature Christmas carols by Government Street Christian School kindergarten choir and holiday selections from the children of the Salvation Army hand bell chorus.

Over 3,600 needy children from Mobile and Baldwin counties are counting on you to adopt them for Christmas.

Participation in the program is fun and easy. Angel Tree volunteers are ready to help you in choose an angel. The rules are simple: only new clothing and gifts should be given to your Angel. Each Angel’s profile contains information on the child’s age, size, gender and special Christmas wish. Use the information as a guide but remember you do not have to purchase the toy listed but it should be an age appropriate gift.

It is up to you to determine how much you care to spend, but the Salvation Army suggests spending no more than $30 to $60 per Angel. If you have more than $100 dollars to spend, we recommend dividing your money up and adopting more than one Angel this Christmas.

Friday, Jan. 5, 2007

Baldwins receive a Christmas miracle

In March 1978, when Travis Baldwin was 8 years old, he was diagnosed with diabetes. Travis, now 36, has lived with the disease 29 years, and it destroyed his pancreas. In addition, his kidneys started failing about 11 years ago. A transplant was the only option left for Travis, but his name was down the list a long way. But would he receive a transplant for kidneys or his pancrease? The list did not include both.

With his kidneys shutting down, Baldwin was scheduled to being kidney dialysis Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2006. Beginning the dialysis would help him cope with failing kidneys, but make a transplant situation more difficult, because a body dealing with the dialysis does not have much left over for the challenges of dealing with a newly transplanted organ.

In October, a new donor list specifically for pancrease/kidney transplants was started by St. Louis University Hospital and Baldwin’s was the first name to be put on it. Travis was on the list for a short 10 days before the hospital informed them a donor had been found.

The Baldwins, Travis and his wife, Tricia, were told to begin preparing for a transplant. The doctors told them it may be 18-24 months, maybe months, maybe days, but to begin preparing.

When they eventually received the call donor organs were available, Baldwin would have only a short time to get from El Dorado Springs to St. Louis where the transplant would take place.

Tricia Baldwin is as a paramedic with Cedar County Ambulance District/St. John’s. As a matter of preparation, her coworkers carried extra uniforms with them so they could step in to relieve Tricia at a moment’s notice if she were on-duty when the call was received.

The good news was Tricia was off-duty when the call was received about 8 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 2. The bad news was Missouri was hit with one of the worst snowstorms in recent history Thursday, Nov. 30, unleashing 12 inches to 2 feet of snow across the state. Getting to St. Louis definitely would be a challenge.

“We had everything packed, and we were on the road about 15 minutes after we received the call,” Travis said. “We made a couple of phone calls – one to my mom and one to my brother and his wife who were going to make the trip with us. We had a convoy of three vehicles, and we were ahead of them by several miles.”

“We went through Springfield on I-44 because of road conditions, and made it as far as the first Lebanon exit when traffic came to a complete stop because of the snow and ice,” Travis said.

Tricia called Dennis Winston, EMS manager of Cedar County Ambulance District to enlist his aid to find out about road conditions and if there were any detours they could take.

“I called hoping to find an alternate route to go around traffic,” Tricia said. “Dennis called (St. John’s) dispatch and found out I-44 was closed between Lebanon and Rolla due to road conditions.”

Tricia also called the Missouri State Highway Patrol in hopes of securing an escort through the traffic, to no avail. She spoke with St. John’s dispatch and St. John’s Lifeline helicopter.

The managers of the ambulance and helicopter dispatch centers and Winston sprung into action trying to find the best way to get Travis and Tricia on their way to St. Louis.

St. John’s tried sending an ambulance from LaClede County to pick up the Baldwins from their stranded vehicle on I-44, but the ambulance encountered the same problem – it couldn’t get through the traffic. The Baldwins were on the inside lane of I-44 with the exit in sight, but were blocked in by semi trucks.

Travis spoke with the truck drivers around them, asking if traffic began moving could the truck drivers leave a space open for the Baldwins to get to the exit.

Tricia received a call from the Lifeline helicopter saying they would send a helicopter to the Lebanon airport to pick them up and fly them to St. Louis.

“In the meantime, the truckers all communicated with each other because the next thing I know one of them was knocking on our window saying, ‘Hey, we’re backing up traffic to make you a spot to get through’,” Tricia said. “So they did. They backed up traffic behind us big enough to get our vehicle through, and I got directions from dispatch to the airport and got to the airport.”

“When we got to the airport the fire chief was there from Lebanon with his vehicle, a fire truck and three other men to make sure we were all right,” Travis said. “Then St. John’s ambulance from Lebanon showed up to check on us. The ambulance took us out to where the helicopter was and both my wife and I got into the helicopter and they took us to the hospital in St. Louis.”

Travis’ brother and wife, and his mother and Travis and Tricias’ daughter, Logan, 10, also were stuck in the traffic jam on I-44.

Again, the truckers pulled together to make a way for them to get to the exit. Travis’ family and daughter got to the airport shortly after the Baldwins to see them off.

The weather was not the only obstacle that day. Time also was of the essence. The Baldwins were stranded in Lebanon with about three hours left on the clock.

“They wanted me in St. Louis about 5-1/2 hours after I received the call,” Travis said, “which would be close on a good day.”

Travis’ surgery was scheduled for 5 p.m. He told his daughter prior to leaving Lebanon in the helicopter, he wouldn’t go into surgery until he had the chance to see her.

About 5:30 p.m., the surgeons advised Travis they wanted to reschedule the surgery to 7 a.m. the next morning – they wanted more time to prepare the organs and to prepare Travis to make the transplant as successful as possible. Another piece of good fortune, since Travis’ daughter and remaining family members did not arrive in St. Louis until about 6 p.m.

“The first hour of the journey was the most stressful hour of my life.” Travis said. “Packing up and leaving and not knowing – we weren’t sure it was a 100 percent – if we wouldn’t have to turn around. Sometimes they haven’t had a chance to look at the donor organs, and they call and tell you to turn around, it’s not a go. We had to be prepared for that; luckily everything worked out.”

The Baldwins believe they received a Christmas miracle, not only with the transplant but the fact Travis’ surgery went very well with only minor setbacks and a possibility they’d be home for Christmas. They returned to Cedar County Tuesday, Dec. 19.

Travis said he feels so much better after the surgery. For the first time in 28 years, he no longer has to take insulin and his blood sugar levels are normal. He still monitors his blood sugar four times a day but sees those checks slowing down in the near future.

His body has suffered damage from the diabetes, his eyesight has been affected and he experiences neuropathy (a numbing sensation) in his hand and feet. The transplant will stop his neuropathy from progressing further, but will not repair damage it already has caused.

“It’s been a real blessing,” Travis said. “God had his hand in it and God does answer prayers, because all of our prayers have been answered. Everything was taken care of – with the helicopter ride, us getting there, the family getting there – it was just an act of God everything happened the way it did.”

“I’m so very humbled by the whole situation. I don’t want to take this for granted, and I want to let people know organ donations do save lives. I hope this story will heighten people’s awareness of how important organ donation is,” he said, “And I want to thank everyone for all the prayers on my behalf.”

Monday, Dec. 11, 2006

Cops, firefighters become personal shoppers

Axel Valeri was all about anything but himself while shopping on Saturday morning.

The nine-year-old Hibbingite was one of 10 area kids who picked out gifts for family members during the fifth annual Shop with a Cop/Shop with a Firefighter event held at Wal-Mart.

Each youth — chosen by the Hibbing Police Department and the Hibbing Fire Department — was given $100 in funds from Wal-Mart to spend at the store. How the monies were spent was up to each participant.

Most opted to buy for their parental units and siblings. But Valeri took the opportunity one step further.

Not only did he buy solely for his mom and sisters, at the conclusion of the shopping spree he handed over a bag of goodies with a tag from The Salvation Army’s Angel tree for another area youth in need.

“I didn’t buy anything for myself,” said Valeri with a sense of pride. “Why would I buy something for myself? I’d already know what it is. Plus, it’d be weird to see ‘to Axel from Axel’ on it.”

Valeri said he brought along gifts ideas, wanting to mix in something fun and with something practical for each.

“I thought about my sister and how she likes to crawl,” said Valeri, referring to Opal, his eight-month-old sister. “So I got her a musical pop-up thing.”

Opal will also be the lucky recipient of a toy train and a dancing monkey. His other sibling, Lola, 3, will have fun unwrapping a puppy with carrying case and a pony barn with twin equines.

“I got my mom a necklace and bracelet with blues stones,” he added. “And socks.”

He wasn’t at a loss of ideas, but the money only went so far.

“I tried to think of things they would like, so that made it easy,” he said. “Then I thought about things they could use.”

Valeri was paired with Hibbing Police Capt. Rich Sellman. With a colored calculator in hand, Sellman raced around the store assisting, advising and adding up Valeri’s purchases.

“It was awesome,” said Sellman of the shopping experience. “We had a fun time together picking out stuff for his mom and sisters.”

Sellman said he was impressed by the youngster’s selflessness.

“He spent every dime on his family,” said Sellman. “He didn’t buy one thing for himself.”

Bonding over buying gifts led to a humorous banter between the two. When chomping on a doughnut after shopping, Valeri asked all about Sellman’s duty belt — namely the spring loaded Long John doughnut dispenser (clip holder), his tiny cup of instant coffee (mace holder) and his ability to radio into the doughnut man when he needs more.

Sellman laughed.

“This is lots of fun,” he added. “It’s fun to see things through kid’s eyes again.”

Sellman also noted the event is a good way to introduce emergency workers to the young population.

“This allows the kids to see us as regular people,” he said. “It’s something we can do with the kids on their level, and shows them that we do more than deal with bad people.”

The firefighters/paramedics enjoyed the experience as well.

“It’s always fun to take kids shopping, isn’t it?” said Fire Marshal Jim Iammateo. “Plus we got a chance to sit down and talk with them.”

Firefighter/paramedic Matt Ashmore had to do some fancy juggling. He assisted brothers Bruno and Maxwell Cheney — keeping them separate to allow each to buy a gift for the other as well as working together to finds gifts for mom and dad.

“That took strategy,” admitted Ashmore. “We had to do some sneaking, swapping and separating. It was challenging, but we got it.”

The Cheneys each said they had a blast — dashing down the aisles, spending money and driving crazy with the cooler they bought for camping.

“It was cool,” said Bruno. “Dad was easy, but we debated about mom.”

Wal-Mart Personnel Manager Barb Miller said they enjoy hosting the annual event. She said they are lucky to have support for such a program, adding that many of the kids are grateful for the opportunity.

“It’s a good thing because some may not have a chance like this,” she said. “Many kids have thanked us in the past. We even have kids that remember us when they come back, so that’s neat.”

Miller said that if she could have her way, all of their grant money would be spent on a program like this. That way, she said, more kids would benefit.

Ashmore helped the Cheney brothers wheel out their cart of gifts — all wrapped, bagged and bowed. Their mom, Jennifer, lit up with a large smile and a smirk of surprise.

She commented on how great the program is, as Bruno and Maxwell bid farewell to Ashmore.

“This will make it a Merry Christmas,” said Bruno.

For these kids, Santa wears badge

Christmas came early for 26 foster children in the care of Ashtabula County Children Services Saturday as they hit the toy aisles at Super Kmart with sheriff’s deputies in tow.

This is the ninth year for the Shop with a Cop program with the Ashtabula County Deputies Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 106. The lodge, along with other organizations, donate money for the event, which allows less fortunate children to shop for everything on their Christmas lists.

“This is always a special occasion for the kids,” said Nick Kerosky, Children Services community services coordinator. “They look forward to it every year.”

Kerosky said it is difficult for the children to be away from their homes regardless of the reason and the event is a way to take their minds off it.

The children aren’t the only ones who look forward to the event each year. Sheriff William Johnson and his deputies volunteer their time each year to put a smile on the faces of the children.

“This is the highlight of our year,” said retired deputy Mark Weber. “I can’t even envision going through Christmas without doing this.”

Weber still continues to participate in the event since his retirement in 2005.

“When you see the gleem in their eyes, you understand,” he said.

Lt. Greg Leonhard said out of all the programs the lodge puts on, this event is the one he looks forward to the most.

“With the support of different organizations, it’s nice to be able to share this with the children.”

Johnson said the program casts a good light on the department to let children know that the deputies and himself are their friends.

“It’s a great program for the kids,” he said. “Regardless of being with police officers, Christmas is Christmas.”

Deputy Brian Hubbard, president of the FOP lodge, said it is a good feeling to be able to do this for the children who might not have had a real happy Christmas.

“It makes you feel good doing it,” he said. “I’m just happy we are able to do it.”

Each child was given a gift card for $60 to spend on whatever he or she wanted. The FOP lodge donated $500, Ohio Cops 4 Kids donated $200, Becky and Bill Halman and Aaron Hoyle donated $260 and Kmart donated $20 per child. Deputy Julius Petro, secretary/treasurer of the lodge, said the deputies are always willing to put in extra money out of their pockets as well.

Following their shopping spree, Kmart officials host a party for the kids, complete with a visit from Santa.

Post office delivers Santa letters

Letters to Santa delivered by the U.S. Postal Service provided proof of his existence in the 1947 version of “The Miracle on 34th Street” and children around the world continue to send him letters.

The U.S. Postal Service has even drawn up a regulation to cover those letters. It appears in the Administrative Support Manual 274.5k:

“The Postal Service or authorized third party may open, read and respond to mail, or contact the sender, regarding correspondence that is addressed to “Santa Claus,” “the North Pole” or similar seasonal characters or destinations and which would otherwise be undeliverable as addressed.”

Isabella Postmaster Melissa Davis said she will personally make sure that letters to Santa that come to her post office are taken care of. She said Santa even responds to children who include a self-addressed stamped envelope with their letters to him.

Of course, all holiday mailings need to be done in a timely fashion so they reach their destinations before Christmas. The first important deadline to remember is this coming Monday. “Our deadlines to the APO (military) addresses for Priority mail is (today) and for Express mail to the military it’s Dec. 19,” Davis said.

Davis said the Isabella post office will be holding a holiday open house from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 15.

“We are having our holiday stamps on display and we are having holiday refreshments in the lobby,” Davis said. “I’m also holding an informational session on building holiday cards on-line. You can build them and mail them on-line. You can even order gift tags and gift cards, and estimate all shipping costs beforehand.”

Davis said there are fewer mailing days available this year. “The post office is actually closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so they’ve lost a day for mailing. The last day to mail first class mail for delivery before Christmas is Dec. 19. The post office will deliver Express mail on Christmas Day, but it would have to be mailed by Dec. 23,” Davis said.

Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2006

Cops spread Christmas spirit

Five-year-old Makiah Shad of Sheboygan had a long list of people she wanted to shop for on Tuesday evening at Target.

As Makiah pushed a red shopping cart that towered over her head, she chattered her way through a list of people she had to get something for — her school bus driver, teachers, grandparents and parents.

“Santa’s bringing me stuff,” Makiah said when asked why she wasn’t using the money she received through the Shop with the Cop program to buy anything for herself.

Makiah was among the 65 kids who took part in this year’s Sheboygan County Law Enforcement Association’s 10th annual Shop with a Cop Christmas program for underprivileged children Tuesday night.

Sixty law enforcement officials from Sheboygan, Sheboygan Falls, Kohler, Plymouth and various county departments volunteered to be paired with a child or a family for the evening at a pizza party at Lakeshore Lanes, 2519 S. Business Drive. Their photos were taken with Santa Claus and then they rode in squad cars to Target, 4028 Highway 28.

“It is really a special event that offers a great opportunity for us law enforcement personnel to connect with the community,” Sheboygan County Sheriff Mike Helmke. “We like to have as many officers as we do children … We even encourage our officers to bring their families along.”

The Shop with a Cop program has hosted about 550 children over the years. Each child was given $100 to spend. Families with three or more children were given a limited spending amount, he said.

The program is financed through fundraisers and private donations, Helmke said.

Many of the children shopping at Target had the same ideas in mind — necessity, practicality and family.

Ayla Kasimoff, 13, of Sheboygan was in the men’s hat section deciding whether she should get a black corduroy cap with a white skull embroidered on it.

“Just kinda for clothes ’cause I’m kinda in need of them,” Ayla said about what she was looking for.

Thomas Pointer, 12, of Sheboygan first went through the men’s clothing aisles and picked up a forest-green terry cloth robe, a long sleeve blue striped shirt and a pair of khakis to wear to church and for Christmas Day at his grandmother’s house.

Along the way, Thomas picked up “Need for Speed,” which he said is a “nonviolent” Xbox video game. His last stop was the toy section, where he said he was looking for things he was into.

“Like a nice remote-control car … to race my brother ’cause I know he’s gonna get one,” Thomas said.

All Dominic Scott, 5, of Plymouth had in his cart was a soft pink plush doll and plush rattle that resembled a bug.

“I picked it (out) for my sister,” Dominic said about the gifts that were for his 1-year-old sister, Justice. “I (am) gonna open it for the baby.”

Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2006

Shop with a cop

With a boy or girl striding along beside them, uniformed Jeffersonville police officers slowly pushed shopping carts into the Meijer store on Allison Lane yesterday afternoon.

Inside, the officers and the kids quickly mapped out where they were going first, and turned to the right toward the shoes, coats and other clothing before checking out the aisles piled high with toys on the other side of the store.

All right man, you ready?” Cpl. Glen Jackson asked John Trumbo, 10, as they moved ahead. “Let’s go look at some shoes.”

John wanted to make one thing clear about what they would be doing later.

“I want the man toys, not the dolls,” he said.

“You don’t want a Barbie?” Jackson asked. John laughed.

They stopped so John could try on a red, black and gray winter coat. It fit. John liked it. They dropped it in the cart and walked toward a display of gloves.

It was the Jeffersonville department’s annual day for kids to “shop with a cop,” an event put on by several departments in Southern Indiana to make sure that families aren’t short of warm clothing and toys during the holidays.

[A Common Sense Guide to Raising Your Children: from a Cop’s Perspective]

New Albany, for example, has scheduled its “shop with a cop” today. Sgt. Julie Condra, the coordinator, said 61 children will get a chance to get clothing and toys at the Wal-Mart on Grant Line Road.

Sgt. Rusty Settles, who organizes the annual shopping spree for the Jeffersonville department, said that families submit applications and that a range of factors, including income, are considered.

As an example, Settles said that some of the children live with single mothers who have decided to go back to school and don’t have ample resources this year.

In all, the department will shop with 58 children, the 33 who were escorted yesterday and 25 more today.

Each child receives $225 in clothes and toys, enhanced by a 20 percent discount at the checkout line from Meijer, said Charlene Harter, a service team leader for the store.

The money comes from contributions and a bingo game put on by Lodge 100 of the Fraternal Order of Police, Settles said before asking Koheleth Quarles, 5, “Are you ready?”

Koheleth nodded, adding that he was especially looking forward to checking out the remote-controlled cars and trucks.

There were similar scenes in almost every aisle, with civilians helping out the police force in a few instances.

For instance, Rebecca O’Daniel, whose fiance, Todd Wilson, is a Jeffersonville officer, was helping Chance Hasty, 7. He took a long time selecting a red baseball cap and then ended up getting a bike and a helmet as well as clothing.

Officer Keith Broady was assigned to assist Alexsia Rosado, 7. To make sure she was at ease, Broady’s sister-in-law, Danielle Richmer, came along.

As she walked down an aisle of toys, Kim Calabro, human resources director for Jeffersonville, was helping Chybria Quarles, 8, make selections that included a doll’s head complete with makeup.

Chybria said she’s a twin and that her sister is “older by 11 minutes.”

Settles said the shopping trip gives officers and the kids a chance to become better acquainted while the department does something good for the community.

“This is what Christmas is all about,” Settles said, “and we really have a good time with it.”

Cops take to the stores

Yeah, they look tough in their uniforms and bulletproof vests. But inside they’re a bunch of softies. [A Cop’s Life: True Stories from the Heart Behind the Badge]

On Saturday morning, 32 law enforcement officers showed up at Kmart to help 86 kids shop for Christmas presents. Each kid was given a $25 gift card and a cop to assist him or her. Kmart donated $400, and the rest came from law enforcement unions.

“If the kid goes over the $25,” said Reita Wyatt, who organizes the Shop With a Cop event, “then the officer pays it out of his pocket.”

And there was plenty of that.

“Who are we going to shop for?” asked Benton County Sheriff Jim Swinyard of a

4-year-old named Kelsey. She smiled shyly and tilted her head to one side.

“Do you like princess things?” Swinyard asked.

Turns out, as a grandpa, he’s an expert on 4-year-old taste. Kelsy eventually picked out some Play-doh and a Blue Pony. But she seemed even happier at Swinyard’s allowing her to briefly “break the law” — he let her ride the side of the shopping cart while he pushed it. (For professionals only — do not try this at home.) She giggled merrily.

Each officer had his own style for helping the kids.

“OK, let’s go,” said a U.S. Army officer as he charged down the aisle with a little boy.

Officer Tyson Poole patiently scanned some walkie-talkies with a boy named Richard.

“Are these real?” Richard asked.

“Let’s see — works up to a thousand feet,” Poole read.

“Like you guys’?” Richard asked.


“How much is it?” Richard asked conscientiously.

“Nine ninety-nine,” Poole said. “You can get that and still have some left over.”

Toys weren’t the only attraction.

“I think I’ve seen you on TV before,” said a boy to his accompanying police officer as they headed for the toy section.

“Yeah, I’m on TV a lot,” the officer dead-panned.

The kids are chosen from foster parent organizations and from the self-sufficiency program.

Wyatt had lots of help keeping things moving with volunteers such as Kristen Ramsay and her two daughters handing out candy canes to kids and making sure everyone got matched up with a cop.

Brothers Johnny, 4, and George, 9, are new to Corvallis. Their family moved here from Utah to be closer to their grandmother. The boys got some Power Rangers stuff and a plastic automatic gun. Oh, and some dolls for their two baby sisters.

“This is me, and this is the policeman I shopped with,” said Johnny displaying a Polaroid photo.

Each kid got a picture along with the presents. And each officer went back to get a new shopping partner until everyone had gone through their lists.

A burly Oregon State Police trooper knelt down to consult with a 4-year-old girl.

“Let’s get your family straightened out,” he said, and they went down a list. Prioritize, set goals.

“Who do you want to shop for first?” he asked.

A pause while she considered.

“How about you?” he asked sweetly.

Yeah, tough guys. Sure.

Kids ready for Shop with a Cop

Being escorted by a cop isn’t most people’s idea of a good time, but for 60 lucky kids, shopping with one can be a highlight of the holiday season.

Since 1991, the Oneida Police Benevolent Association has hosted Shop with a Cop, a program designed to help needy children during the holiday season.
For its first six years, Ames hosted the event; in 1997 Shop with a Cop moved to Wal-Mart, where children and police officers have bought toys and goodies ever since.
“This year we tried to limit it from grades one through three,” said police investigator John Paul, also a member of the PBA, “but there will be some people in attendance that will be probably older because you run into situations where you might have a child in third grade who has a brother or sister in fifth grade, and it’s not necessarily fair to do one and not the other.”
The kids meet with the police officers outside Wal-Mart, where they’re each given a certain amount of money with which to shop. “If there’s an individual child, they get $100 to spend,” Paul said. “What we have done is, when there are multiple kids from the same family, it’s a little less. This year’s it’s $80 per child. So if there’s one family in particular where there’s three kids, each child gets $80, so that family gets $240.”
Money for the event comes from fundraisers and donations received throughout the year, most of which is generated by the golf tournament the PBA hosts over the summer. “That’s pretty much where 90 percent of our donations come from, and that’s primarily from local businesses who donate,” Paul said.
Paul explained that the PBA doesn’t limit the program based on money, but that they choose a certain number of children to participate. This year there are 60 children from the six area elementary schools. Each school sends a list of those students are most in need, and the PBA chooses children to participate.
“We took our list of kids who participated last year, and if there were kids who participated last year and they were on the list again this year, we passed them over so we could get to other kids who weren’t able to do it last year, just to be fair,” Paul said.
Those students chosen will spend the morning shopping at Wal-Mart with officers who volunteer to take part in the activity-and sometimes their family members, too.
“I have a sign-up list posted and I think there’s maybe 10 who have signed up so far, but spouses will come, and other family members. Our secretarial staff will come and help out; our chaplain will come with his wife, so it’s not strictly just the officers. It’s the officers and family,” Paul explained.
“Our guys don’t get paid to do Shop with a Cop,” he added. “They come on their own time, but they do wear their uniforms, because it’s Shop with a Cop, so we encourage the officers that participate to wear the uniform so that the child gets the whole effect.”

A free spree for kids, spreading yule cheer

Largo firefighters, police officers and even the city manager serve as personal shoppers for children from needy families whose holidays will be brighter now.

$2,000 Amount in holiday gift cards Wal-Mart donated for needy families.

$2,500 Amount in matching funds given to the project by Commissioner Mary Gray Black and the Rev. Matthew Trill.

16 Number of families that received gift cards.

$250 Amount of each gift card.

It seems real men do like to shop. That was the case Saturday morning, when Largo police officers and firefighters, mostly male, showed up at a Wal-Mart on Missouri Avenue to serve as personal shoppers for some deserving youngsters out on $250 shopping sprees. It was an overcast day, but there were plenty of sunny smiles as the city servants and their young charges wound through the aisles, trolling for holiday gifts. “This is great fun,” said Largo police Chief Lester Aradi, who helped orchestrate the project. “I’m hoping this will create some memories for these kids that will last a lifetime. Today, it’s all about making them happy.”

Largo fire Chief Jeff Bullock, who brought some big-boy toys along – a ladder and an engine truck on display in the store’s parking lot – said it was a great opportunity to spend some positive time with youngsters.

“Maybe it will inspire some careers as a firefighter or policeman,” he said.

The idea began a couple of weeks ago and snowballed.

A staff member from the local Wal-Mart contacted Largo’s police and fire departments to offer $2,000 in holiday gift cards for needy families. It was part of the company’s community giving efforts, said Kevin Taber, the store’s personnel manager.

The two departments were thrilled with the idea, Aradi said. They planned to present eight $250 gift cards to selected families; four youth would “shop with a cop” and four would “shop with a fireman.”

Then Commissioner Mary Gray Black got word and decided to match the Wal-Mart funds with another $2,000. And the Rev. Matthew Trill, pastor of the New Testament Baptist Church and Largo police chaplain, tossed in $500.

“It’s the true spirit of Christmas,” Aradi said.

With the funds doubled and then some, 16 families were chosen from the Haven of RCS as well as the Ridgecrest and High Point YMCAs. There would be enough extra money to pay sales tax and give each child a bit of a financial cushion should they go over the allowance.

Desmond Murphy, 9, was his family’s designated shopper, a job he took seriously.

While some of the young shoppers flocked to the video games and electronics sections of the store, Desmond picked out a coffee pot and filters, a foot spa, and a Swiffer floor care set for his mother.

“This is heaven,” he said about the spree.

He also selected some toys for his siblings before remembering he could use a new pair of shoes for himself.

He shrugged off the Spider-Man shoes; he was much too old for those. Then he tried on a pair of black and gray joggers.

Largo police Detective Scott Gore bent down to feel the toe room.

“I think you need to go up a half a size,” he said.

With that piece of good advice, there was one person left on Desmond’s wish list: his infant sister. Trouble was, he didn’t know what size she wore. And he wasn’t sure about her age.

“Is she the size of a chicken or the size of a turkey?” Gore asked.

Largo City Manager Steve Stanton served as a personal shopper for Traven Goettl, 8.

They hauled in two shopping carts filled to the brim with trucks, a skateboard, toys and candles and a spa set for the child’s mother.

And while some of the shoppers went over their allowances by $20 or $30, Stanton showed his fiscally conservative side, coming in at a low $258, including the tax.

“I like to see money go as far as possible,” he said.

As the shoppers checked out, one woman stopped Aradi and tried to contribute.

At first, he thought she was asking for a donation and reached down into his own pockets to help.

But no, Anna Insko, 73, insisted she wanted to help the children. “It’s just so touching,” she said. “It’s such a good thing that they do.”

Monday, Dec. 4, 2006

Angel tree provides Christmas hope for children

The Demopolis Salvation Army is helping less fortunate children of the area have a merry Christmas through its Angel Tree efforts.

The group has setup an Angel Tree at Robertson Bank in downtown Demopolis in hopes that the public will help spread the spirit of the season, giving. Each angel on the tree represents a different needy child. [In Search of ..the Real Spirit of Christmas]

“Each Angel tag has a child’s first name, sex, age and clothing size,” said Kelly New, with the Salvation Army. “There is also a suggested toy that each child wants, but those that adopt an angel don’t necessarily have to adhere directly to the suggestion.”

New said that the program is a great way to help others during the holiday. She said that the trees are set up in high traffic business so that the public will have a chance to adopt an angel.

“Our local tree is set up at the downtown branch of Robertson Bank,” said Joyce Baty, of the Demopolis branch of the Salvation Army. “We want all of the angel children there to be adopted and time is running out.”

According to Linda Blair at Robertson Bank many of the angles on the tree have been adopted but there are some holdouts remaining.

“We always try and do something for the community during Christmas here at the bank, and we were contacted about this and thought it would be a good idea,” said Blair. “A lot of our employees adopted angels from the tree, close to 20, but there are still some left.”

The angel tree is open to members of the community who apply to get an angel on the tree. The Demopolis Salvation Army began taking applications for spots on the Angel Tree during the second week of October.

“Once people sign up the applications have to go through an approval process,” said New. “If they meet the requirements they are approved for the food program, the angel program or both.”

Once the angels are adopted the sponsor is given a time period to shop for items for their child before they must bring the gifts to the Demopolis Salvation Army. Baty said that the time is growing nigh for the gifts to be returned.

“This Monday there were seven angels left at the bank,” said Baty. “Time is running out. They must be turned in by Dec. 15.”

Both New and Baty said that the program has been a tradition in the Demopolis community for quite sometime. New said that the Angle Tree has been a yearly event for at least 15 years.

Angel to the rescue

Curiosity got the better of me. I simply had to meet the person offering to baby sit up to 40 children this Saturday at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lower Makefield so parents could go Christmas shopping “kid-free.” [Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping

“Call 215-295-****,” (number changed) to reserve a spot, said the sign in front of the church at Big Oak and Pine Grove roads. The deadline is Thursday.

Who VOLUNTEERS for that kind of duty? Masochist? Martyr?

Get a load of this. She’s a busy working mom.

I mean very busy. Angel Miller, 42, is married to Kevin, mommy to Kyra, 9, and daughter to Mary Ann Doberenz, whom she helps run the family owned business in Penndel. Angel teaches Sunday school, does her own canning, bakes cookies from scratch, and I’ll be darned if she doesn’t collect dryer lint for art projects.

She doesn’t plan to just “sit” the kids from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. She’ll lead them and a team of adult and Boy Scout helpers in making crafts nice enough for gift giving.

You needn’t be a member of the church, but your kid needs to be potty-trained to participate. A fee of $20 for the first child and $7 for every additional one will cover the cost of munchies and materials.

Think of it. Scores of squirming, sticky-fingered monsters up to their eyeballs in foam board and glue. I roll my eyes, put my head in my hands and Angel laughs.

“It’ll be fun,” she assures me as she shows off the craft supplies, explaining how this or that bit of fluff or cardboard or wooden stick will be turned into something awesome.

Maybe she is goofy. Surely she lacks some faculty.

Oh sure, on some days, Angel confides. Most notably when the time needed to accomplish her to-do list exceeds the hours in a day. That’s what happened one day last week. She was stressing out, wondering out loud how to manage, when Kyra came to the rescue.

“Here, Mom. You could use this today,” she said handing over a neon-yellow cloth bracelet printed with the letters “WWJD.”

What would Jesus do?

For starters, he’d count his blessings, instead of all the cars backed up in this traffic jam or the loads of laundry waiting at home.

So why does a woman extend herself to others in this hectic season?

Because her faith teaches her, “We weren’t put here to struggle alone.” If you have the ability to help out, you ought to. She’s already finished her Christmas shopping.

Lots of other women from the small church must be finished, too. They’ll pitch in on Saturday to work with the kids. In addition to crafts, there’ll be a movie, games and snacks.

The congregation, led by Pastor Richard Reinemann, was founded in 1955. It’s still going strong, with a little more than 200 members — about 30 of them Sunday school students. They’re learning about the principles of Advent these days: hope, peace, love and joy.

Angel hopes there’ll be lots of children signed up for Saturday. She’s completely at peace with her decision to surround herself with children who have access to glue. She sees helping as an act of love and that always brings the helper joy.

Listen long enough to this girl and you start to believe it’s goofy NOT to do kiddie crafts on Saturday. When I left her, I was scratching my head.

Had I just met (an) Angel? Might be.

Friday, Dec. 1, 2006


With the Thanksgiving holiday now behind us, local organizations are reminding residents and businesses they need help in their quest to make Christmas brighter for area children and families. [Cleveland Police (OH) (Images of America)]

One of those groups is the annual Shop-With-A-Cop program, which stages various fundraisers that enable law enforcement personnel to take about 100 local children on a Christmas shopping trip at Wal-Mart. In its first 10 years, the drive has taken more than 1,080 local children shopping at Christmas time “to ensure that they don’t go without,” said Oak Hill Police Chief Mike Whisman, president of the sponsoring Fraternal Order of Police’s Fayette County Memorial Lodge No. 118. “While doing this we also impress upon our youth that we, the law enforcement community, are there to help, not only in bad times but in good times, as well,” Whisman said in a letter to Fayette County residents.

On Monday, Whisman visited with representatives from Luv Homes, an official sponsor of Shop-With-A-Cop 2006. The business has staged a couple of fundraising events this year, and it has erected an angel tree in its Oak Hill location to benefit Shop-With-A-Cop.

Luv Homes will hold an open house from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 9 so individuals can choose a name off the angel tree and help give that child a merrier Christmas through Shop-With-A-Cop.

“We appreciate what the community has done for us, so we wanted to do something to give back to the community,” said Karen Shepherd, Luv Homes’ general manager. “Children touch all of us.”

Whisman said he’s grateful for the help provided by Luv Homes and other local businesses and individuals in striving to meet the FOP’s goals.

Angel tree gives hope of miracle

The angels have finally been stitched together and the harps and bows have all been carefully strung across the branches. After three months of hard work, 16-year-old Suzy Jordan’s tree is finally sparkling at Sandy’s Festival of Trees in honor of her best friend, Emily Austin.

All that’s needed now is a real angel, says Suzy, to help 13-year-old Emily recover from a recent bone marrow transplant and finally be rid of the leukemia that has dominated her life for the past eight years.

“Emily is the strongest person I know — she’s pretty much my hero,” says Suzy, a sophomore at Orem High School who wanted to get together for a Free Lunch chat to share the impact her friend has had on her life. She met Emily in a leadership class last year in junior high.

“There’s always such a positiveness and brightness about her, even though she’s had a lot to deal with in life,” says Suzy. “She’s an inspiration to everyone she meets.”

Last year, when Emily’s cancer was in remission, she helped Suzy and other leadership students decorate a red-and-white Santa tree to benefit Primary Children’s Medical Center at the annual Festival of Trees.

“It was so much fun for her — it was the first ‘normal’ year she’d had in a long time,” says Emily’s mother, Laurie. “She’s seen the inside of the hospital more than a school since she was 5.”

In August, when Suzy learned that her friend’s leukemia had returned for the third time, she knew exactly what to do to show her support.

“Emily was so excited about helping out with the festival tree last year,” she says, “that I decided to surprise her by donating a tree of my own.”

With help from her mother, Paula, who taught her how to use a sewing machine, Suzy stitched together 50 angel ornaments, complete with golden trumpets and flowing hair. She also made two angel quilts — one for whoever buys her “Always an Angel” tree at the festival and the other for Emily to snuggle with in the hospital while recovering from her bone marrow transplant.

It will take about a year before doctors know whether this week’s operation was successful. Although Emily was given only a 20 to 30 percent chance of complete recovery, “we’re praying it will be higher,” says Suzy. “Emily’s a fighter — there’s a lot that she wants to do with her life.”

Because she’ll need to spend the next two months in the hospital, Emily won’t be able to see the tree that her friend so patiently put together after school each day. “But I’m taking lots of pictures to surprise her with,” says Suzy. “I want her to know that she’ll always be an angel to me.”

Suzy’s tree has become more than just another holiday decoration to the Austin family. It’s given Emily’s family, parents, grandparents, cousins and three siblings hope for a miracle.

“That somebody would do something like this for her is so touching,” says Laurie Austin. “It’s given Emily hope that she has a chance to be a normal girl and do all the things other girls do.”

Suzy’s greatest hope is that in the years to come, she’ll be able to donate more trees to the festival, with one big difference: “The best wish of all,” she says, “is that Emily will be there with me, putting on the decorations.”

Monday, Dec. 5, 2005

Angel tree helps wishes come true

The Salvation Army is aiming to make this a Merry Christmas for over 390 underprivileged children in Matagorda County.

“I hope we are able to fulfill the wishes of all the children,” said Minnie Martinez, Salvation Army’s Christmas Angel coordinator.

“We try to take care of every child on the list,” she said.

The first names of these children are listed on Angels hanging from Christmas trees in Wal-Mart, International Bank of Commerce (IBC), Wells Fargo and Hibernia National Bank.

The 2005 campaign started Thursday, Dec. 1 and will end at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 21.

Each angel includes the child’s first name, age, gender and gifts the child would like for the holiday.

The children are asking for a variety of gifts including clothing and toys.

“Many of them are happy to get anything, every gift is appreciated,” said Martinez.

Once an angel is removed, a gift is bought and delivered to the Salvation Army in Bay City, 1911 Seventh St.

Each angel has a number that corresponds to one of the children, the information is matched and the gift is delivered to the child.

Children from birth to 12-years of age are eligible for placement on one of the trees.

The Salvation Army also will accept monetary donations to help take care of some of the kids wishes.

If there are leftover angels, Salvation Army will use the donations to buy gifts for those kids.

Organizations and individuals are encouraged to participate in the program.

• You can read more Christmas news, including news about the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree project, on Joy of Christmas

Sunday, Nov. 6, 2005

Operation Christmas Child boxes

Brownwood area residents are invited to participate in an international holiday program that will benefit more than 7 million suffering children in more than 90 countries on six continents.

Operation Christmas Child, the largest program of its type, is now asking volunteers to fill shoe boxes with items to be shipped around the world. Brownwood area residents may participate by preparing boxes and delivering them to the local relay center at Coggin Avenue Baptist Church.

“Our members have done this for a number of years, but this is the first time Coggin Avenue Baptist has served as the local relay center,” Elaine Hedges, who is coordinating the collection effort here, said. The national collection week is Nov. 14-20. Boxes are needed by then to allow for distribution before Christmas.

The collection hours that week at the Christian Life Center will be from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday; and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

For many of the children, the shoe box gift will be the first gift they have ever received.

A year-round project of hope and encouragement, Operation Christmas Child delivered an early Christmas in the summer of 2005 to more than a quarter million children devastated by the tsunami in Southeast Asia.

Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritan’s Purse, the international Christian relief organization ranked three times by SmartMoney magazine as America’s most efficiently run charity. Headed by Franklin Graham, Samaritan’s Purse is currently working in some 100 countries to provide relief and aid to victims of war, natural disaster, famine, disease and poverty.

Children, families, churches, scout troops, schools, civic clubs and businesses are already filling their shoe boxes now. This fall, shoe box gifts can be dropped off at one of more than 1,800 drop-off sites located in all 50 states. National Collection Week is Nov. 14-21. Information and other drop-off sites are available by calling (800) 353-5949 or visiting After Nov. 21, shoe box gifts should be mailed to Samaritan’s Purse, 801 Bamboo Road, Boone, N.C. 28607.

More than 7 million shoe boxes filled with personal gifts, school supplies, candy, necessity items, family photos, and notes of encouragement will be prepared by millions of individuals in 11 countries: the United States, Canada, Australia, Austria, Germany, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and New Zealand

Samaritan’s Purse national partners will hand-deliver the shoe box gifts to more than 7 million children in more than 90 countries.

Operation Christmas Child began in the United States in 1993 with 28,000 shoe box gifts. Since then, the kids-helping-kids project has collected more than 39 million shoe box gifts and hand-delivered them to needy children in some 120 countries.

People interested in donating should find an empty shoe box and decide whether it will be for a boy and girl and what age range — 2 to 4, 5 to 9 or 10 to 14. Then label it. Fill with small toys, school supplies small hyigene items and other items like hard candy, socks and T-shirts. Do not include used, war-related or perishable items, liquids, medicines or breakable items. Boxes do not need to be wrapped, but can be, and lids should be wrapped separately. Complete information is available on the Web site.

Christmas is cancelled

DON’T mention Christmas around the town hall – bureaucrats have cancelled it.

Lambeth council officers have invited borough residents to the seasonal switch on of “Winter Lights” and even “Celebrity Lights” – but have omitted the word Christmas from promotional literature.

Outspoken Clapham Town ward Conservative councillor Bernard Gentry has blasted the move, which he has described as “political correctness gone mad”.

The councillor said: “This is just another example of council officers overstating political correctness.

“The is no mention at all of Christmas in promotional literature for the lights switch-on. People respect and enjoy each others’ religion and customs.

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“But we should not be in a position where we are too scared to acknowledge the Christian festival of Christmas in the same way as we mark the Hindu festival of Diwali, the Muslim month of Ramadan and the Jewish Yom Kippur.”

Reverend Roger Stedman, pastor of Clapham Christian Fellowship, backed the councillor’s call.

He said: “The lights are there to mark Christmas and as such should be called Christmas lights.

“We should respect Christmas in the same way we respect the festivals and events of other religions.”

Details of the town centre events were published in the council’s newspaper, Lambeth Life. In Cllr Gentry’s ward the December 2 “Winter Lights” switch-on will be followed by a Chinese lantern parade.

Streatham and Oval town centres’ “Winter Lights” will be lit up from November 19 and November 24.

Waterloo residents have been promised a “Celebrity Lights” switch-on on December 1.

Details of Brixton’s festive event have yet to be confirmed.

Only in Norwood have residents been invited to the switch on of “Christmas Lights”. That event takes place on November 24.

A Lambeth council spokesman said: “The term winter lights simply reflects the fact that a number of religious festivals take place over the winter period when the lights are switched on.”

Inside Good News Blog