Public Safety

For 250 elementary students, gifts of warmth from Cedar Rapids police officers and high schoolers

Second-grader Espoir Mandela, 7, tries on his new winter coat Monday with help from English language learner teacher Julie Bradley, center, and Officer A’alyiah Watkins, left, at the Cedar River Academy at Taylor Elementary School in Cedar Rapids. Espoir recently moved from Tanzania and is getting ready for his first winter here. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
Second-grader Espoir Mandela, 7, tries on his new winter coat Monday with help from English language learner teacher Julie Bradley, center, and Officer A’alyiah Watkins, left, at the Cedar River Academy at Taylor Elementary School in Cedar Rapids. Espoir recently moved from Tanzania and is getting ready for his first winter here. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Thanks to the work of Cedar Rapids high school students and police officers, the 250 elementary students at the Cedar River Academy will be bundled up this winter.

Usually about this time of year, the Cedar Rapids Police Protective Charity takes about 100 local children shopping for winter clothes at Target. But this year the charity wanted to do something different — provide winter items for scores of kindergarten through fifth-grade students at the Cedar River Academy at Taylor Elementary School.

“This project has been on my radar for more than a year,” said Protective Charity board director Charity Hansel. A school resource officer at Kennedy High School, she said she learned last year that the young students at Cedar River Academy could benefit from some assistance and she wanted to do something to help.

“I knew I really wanted to help the students at that school, so I approached the principal last summer with the idea that the police charity would provide all 250 students with winter coats and boots, and she was onboard,” Hansel said.

“I thought it was a great idea,” said Andrea Scott, the Cedar River Academy principal. “And it would definitely be beneficial to our students as they would appreciate the winter paraphernalia. You know, we’re a small school but we have a demographic that would benefit from and appreciate that kind of support.”

For Hansel, winter coats and boots were just the beginning.

“Typically, when we do Santa Cop we are able to get each kid everything they need — coats, boots, gloves, hats, socks, whatever they might need to keep warm during the winter,” she said. “But since we were purchasing twice as many coats and boots for this project, we wouldn’t be able to provide any other items.”

That’s when Hansel said she got an idea.

“I went to my Kennedy student government students and asked them if they wanted to get involved, and if they thought other schools might also want to help,” she said. “Right away my kids at Kennedy said ‘yes, we want to do this.’”

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“It was an automatic ‘yes’ for us,” said 17-year-old Abby Feldman, a senior and student government officer at Kennedy. “We thought it was a great idea to give back to the community in a meaningful way.

So as Hansel worked on getting the big-ticket items squared away, students from Kennedy, Washington, Jefferson and Metro high schools worked with their resource officers to collect gloves, socks and hats.

Kennedy was in charge of collecting gloves, Feldman said, while Washington students collected hats and Metro and Jefferson students collected socks.

“It was really incredible to see everyone come together to make this happen,” Hansel said.

And the results, she said, went far beyond expectations.

“Between Jefferson and Metro, the students collected more than 1,300 pairs of socks,” she said. “Washington raised more than 300 hats and my Kennedy students not only raised enough pairs of gloves that each student could have two, they were also able to collect enough extra to put pairs of black gloves in all our squad cars for officers to give out to the homeless.”

On Monday, loaded with hundreds of bags of winter supplies, a handful of Cedar Rapids police officers and students from the four high schools got to see just how much their efforts meant to the Cedar River Academy students.

“It was so fun because the kids were all getting these bags and they were so excited because it literally felt like Christmas morning,” Hansel said. “And, that was a thrill because we don’t typically get to have that experience when we take kids shopping — there is no surprise. So, this was a different dynamic and it was very fulfilling for the officers to be able to see that kind of joy.”

And, as an added bonus, Hansel said one of the police lieutenants was able to secure enough donated books that each child got to take one home.

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“It was so cute to see the smiles on their little faces when they opened their bags,” Feldman said. “They were so excited about their new coats and gloves and hats — you know things that we might think are little or insignificant, but they were actually a big deal for these kids.”

No stranger to fundraising and item drives, Feldman said the Kennedy student government members get involved in multiple philanthropic activities each year but seldom get to see the impact their work can have.

“This was really my first time, experiencing it firsthand and getting to see how much it meant to these kids and it was really cool to see,” she said. “I’m really glad we got to do this and give back to the community that has done so much for us, and to see how this impacts other people’s lives in ways that we don’t always necessarily realize, it was just a really great experience.”

And that excitement has lasted through the week, Scott said.

“In the past, we’ve had just a few families that have benefited from the (Santa Cop) program,” Scott said. “So I think it was really special this year that everybody got to participate because when you have a population of students that are really deserving of things, it’s really hard just to pick one or two families. Our school has a significant population of students and families that can benefit from donations and this way, everyone got to receive that support.”

Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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