Dundee area cops, firefighters make Christmas brighter for needy kids
Santa Claus needs all the help he can get at this time of year.
While his sleigh, reindeer and elves are preparing for their big day, Dundee Township's first responders are using their manpower and generosity to give him a head start on the gift-giving.
This month, area police officers shared their holiday spirit with money collected through Shop with a Cop. East Dundee firefighters did the same with their annual gift drive.
Fifty-eight families, or 138 children, had a chance to buy presents for themselves, parents and siblings while shopping with police officers from Carpentersville, East Dundee, West Dundee, Gilberts, Pingree Grove, Round Lake and the Illinois State Police.
"The children were given $100 each to pick out toys and games they wanted for Christmas," said Griselda Hernandez, one of the coordinators from the Carpentersville Police Department. "If they needed a coat, boots, hats and gloves, they were also given money for them."
By the time the shopping spree ended at the local Walmart, there were "a lot of coats, a lot of boots and many toys were purchased," she said.
Officers accompanied each child during the spree to make sure they did not go over budget.
"We had some kids who bought things for themselves. Some had money left over. One little boy said, 'I really want to buy something for my mom,' " she said.
Watching the children splurge and seeing their parents' reaction was reward enough for Carpentersville Police Community Service Officer Joseph Pilarski.
"Before we went, the families and the officers met to talk about the program. While I was talking, I saw in the crowd a mother who was crying. She later told me that she and her family were struggling (financially) this year. They didn't know whether they were going to have a Christmas," he said.
For that very reason, East Dundee firefighters went on their own shopping spree and bought presents for dozens of children partnered with Jerri Hoffmann Child + Family Center, an early childhood education center in Carpentersville.
This is the third year firefighters used proceeds from their November meat raffle to give a Christmas to families who cannot afford one.
"This is a way we give back to the (Dundee) community," said Paula Roland, secretary for the East Dundee Firefighters' Association.
Association members, who are firefighters and paramedics, sponsor and coordinate the drive. They do the same with their annual meat raffles.
Firefighters had just as much fun buying the toys and clothing as the children have when unwrapping them, she said.
"We're able to buy these gift because people support us at our (meat) raffle," she said.
The children learned that firefighters don't just ride on trucks when responding to fires and accidents. Sometimes they play elves when Santa needs them.
The Shop with a Cop program also introduces children to another side of police officers, said West Dundee Police Officer Michael Slager. It shows the children, the officers are community helpers at Christmas and throughout the year.
The children who shopped with the officers are suggested by local church groups, school principals and the Boys and Girls Club of Dundee Township.
While their names are being suggested, the officers hold fundraisers, raffles and a golf outing. Donations were also collected from local groups, such as the Lions Clubs.
$20,000 was raised in 2017 -- more than last year, Hernandez said.
Badge-wearing officers may have had all the fun browsing store aisles with the children, but community spirit and generosity accompanied them on their way to the cash registers.