by Chris Studor
An act of Christmas magic took place on Dec. 10 in the former fire station bay area at Hinckley Township Hall. A group of volunteers turned the plain room into a Christmas wonderland for 26 children attending the annual Cops, Kids and Claus.
The room not only sparkled but smelled delicious as volunteers prepared a tasty breakfast for the young guests. Bringing it all together were Hinckley’s finest, as well as police officers from area departments.
The officers were paired up with the children for a shopping spree to Wal-Mart in Wadsworth, culminating with lunch, present wrapping and a visit with Santa.
Now in its fifth year, the event is organized by Det. Jeff Kinney, who said the event “is quite an undertaking, but when you hear some of the stories from the children, you realize how much they need a day like this.”
Kinney explained one participant had been the victim of domestic violence and told Kinney he had been pushed against the wall but said, “you can’t see the bruises anymore.”
Other participants came from situations were money is very tight or the family is struggling in some way.
“This is the stuff that hurts, but then the children often follow up with telling us this is the best day of their lives,” he said.
Volunteers made the room look like Santa’s workshop, creating an archway lined with inflatable Christmas characters including snowmen, penguins, Mickey Mouse and the Grinch. The party area had tables decorated with small silver Christmas trees and at each child’s seat was a silver bucket filled with small toys, a gift card and candy.
Each table had a mixture of children and officers. At one table, a young girl named Valencia said she loved all the candy and then pulled out a $10 gift card from Chick Fill A.
“Look at this,” said Valencia. “I even got a rubber ducky.”
While Valencia enjoyed her treats, young Kevin, who called himself the “donut monster,” said,⁷ “I’ve had three donuts already but I could have eaten 12!”
At one table, Hinckley Patrol officer Jess Parente chatted with several children. When asked if she had a special memory from past Cops, Kids and Claus events, she recalled being paired with three young girls.
“As we shopped, two of the girls told me how they wanted to be police officers when they grew up,” she said. “I really love that memory.”
Once breakfast wrapped up, Kinney instructed the children that they would each ride in a police or service vehicle making a caravan of shining lights and sirens all the way to Wal-Mart in Wadsworth. Each child had a $150 gift card to spend as they choose.
In about an hour and a half, the children returned from their shopping excursion. Volunteers had lunch waiting which included macaroni and cheese, Chick-fil-A, pizza and beverages.
Officer Jim Ascherl, always dressed in a Santa hat and Christmas tie for the occasion, was joined by his wife, Monique, who volunteered at the wrapping station. When asked what toys were popular with the children this year, Monique said, “It was all about electronics this year.”
The children not only bought gifts for themselves, but also for their families. A young boy named Cameron commented on how he bought a gift for his grandmother.
“I also bought a Santa hat for myself because we are going to have Christmas spirit week at school next week and one day is hat day,” said Cameron.
A young girl named Trinity was particularly excited by a gift she is going to give to her secret Santa.
“We have a group of friends that exchange gifts and now I will have something to give my Secret Santa,” she said.
Volunteer coordinator Rena Willham commented how the event touches her heart each year.
“One little boy came up to me and asked if he could buy a pair of socks with his gift card because he only had one pair at home,” she said.
Willham said it is a team effort with everyone happy to be there to provide the children with a very special day. ∞
Featured Photo: Hinckley Ptl. Jim Ascherl puts on a Christmas smile, hat, and tie, for the young guests at the annual Cops, Kids and Claus. Photos by Chris Studor