CEDAR RAPIDS — If 2020 were a typical year, officers with the Cedar Rapids Police Department would be preparing for their annual Santa Cop event, during which officers take children from about 100 families shopping for winter items and a little something fun.
The program is sponsored by the Cedar Rapids Police Protective Charity, which pays for the items via donations, and officers give their time to help children shop for needed cold-weather items, including coats, snow boots, gloves and winter hats.
Santa Cop started about 17 years ago with a few officers who saw a need and funded the shopping spree themselves, said Charity Hansel, Cedar Rapids mental health officer. Now, the event has grown to include two events — one during the holiday season and another “Shop with a Cop” event at the end of summer for back to school supplies, with dozens of officers and hundreds of kids.
Unfortunately, 2020 has not been a typical year. Because of the pandemic, the department called off Santa Cop.
Hansel recently spoke with The Gazette about how officers still found a way to get winter goods to local kids.
Q: Can you talk about the decision to call off the Santa Cop event?
A: We absolutely love doing the Santa Cop event. We love seeing the children and we want to develop those relationships — that was the whole point of the program. But at the same time, we knew because of COVID that we couldn’t. It just wasn’t safe. We didn’t want to put the officers in that environment, we didn’t want to put the kids and their families in that environment, and we didn’t want to put the employees at Target at risk, so we voted unanimously to find some other way to contribute.
Q: What did you end up doing?
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A: At about the same time that we — the board — decided we couldn’t do the Santa Cop program, KCRG was doing their Coats for Kids event, so I reached out to them to see if there was a way we could help with that program. The Cedar Rapids Police Protective Charity had $10,000 earmarked for the Santa Cop event, so we thought maybe we could donate that money to Coats for Kids. The catch was that I wanted to make sure our donations went to local kids and the Coats for Kids event reaches something like 19 counties on the eastern side of Iowa. But since we were planning to donate such a substantial amount we were able to designate that the coats we purchased stayed local, and I think the event ended up raising more than $40,000 in total, which is great.
Q: About how many coats were purchased with the Cedar Rapids Police Protective Charity funds?
A: We were able to purchase 500 coats, but we didn’t want to just give the money and be done. We wanted to be involved, so when the coats were ordered and delivered officers helped tag and bag all of the coats, and then they helped deliver the coats to the Salvation Army and a couple other places and then the officers helped staff those places when the coats were given out. It was kind of a drive-through type situation so we could minimize contact with the families, but still make sure we could get coats to the kids, and we ended up with some leftover coats.
Q: What will you do with the leftover coats?
A: So, we have about 100 — maybe a few more — coats left, and they will be brought over to the police department in the next few days. We know that there are still kids out there that need coats and so we want the community to know that anyone who still needs a coat for their child to please contact me directly here at (319) 286-5406 and I will make sure that a coat gets delivered to that child.
Q: Do you have any other thoughts about this year’s adaptation?
A: There were pluses and minuses to the decision to not do Santa Cop. A plus is that we reached a lot more kids in 2020 by joining with Coats for Kids, but we would much rather have that personal contact if we could. We knew it was going to be different, but we really wanted to make sure that families knew that we still care about them and we know that there’s a need and we want to help with that, and it was hard on us to miss out on that contact with the kids. It’s a big deal for us to be around kids and to form those relationships so it stinks that we missed that opportunity not once this year but twice (the department’s back-to-school shopping event was also canceled due to COVID). But we’re going to keep doing what we do, we’re going to keep raising money and we’re going to keep reaching out to the kids. And hopefully we’ll return back to some sort of normalcy in time for next fall, and that’s what we’re really all praying for.
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