On Christmas Day, Columbus Division of Police officers across the city handed out gift bags to people they met, as a way to say "Merry Christmas." Some of these presents were given out to people they came in contact with on calls, others were given out to people they passed while on patrol. The common factor seemed to be that whoever received them left not just with a bag, but also with a smile.
Our president, Nicole Banks, did ride alongs with first shift officers Aaron Neal and Nick Siers on the South Side of Columbus, so she got to watch as they handed out the bags. That day, they gave out more than 40, and could easily have handed out more, especially of the kids bags, which went very quickly. She reports that it was fun to see the joy on people's faces when they received presents from the officers. Everyone burst into a grin, even before they saw what was in the bag. One panhandler in particular, when Ofc Siers called him over to the vehicle, started dancing with joy when he saw what he had for him, exclaiming, "NO WAY! NO WAY! I have never had this happen to me! This is the best! Thank you so much!" Ofc Siers also gave him one of the balaclavas that we purchased at Kohl's. Nicole said the man's happiness was so overwhelming that he brought tears to her eyes.
K-9 Officer David Jones stopped by with his partner, Ayko. Officer Jones was the one who gave us the idea to hand out these types of bags to homeless. We gave him 20 bags, and we also had some donated blankets for him as well. He'd started giving his bags out in the days before Christmas, and when we met him at the start of his shift on Christmas day, he only had six bags left and a few blankets. (Ofc Jones will be the guest speaker at our January 9 meeting. Please see the events tab for details.)
Based on preliminary feedback we've received, we did really well with this project. Just a few minor changes if we do it again next year: definitely more kids and homeless bags, let officers who are working Christmas Eve also sign up, let officers hand them out in the days prior to Christmas, and use Ziploc bags with a zipper rather than a press to seal (Ofc Jones said that's particularly important for homeless people who may have lost manual dexterity from the cold).
This project was a lot of fun and we really appreciate everyone who got involved. We loved how you all came together to accomplish this task, and that the officers volunteered to give gifts to the public. Please take a moment to read over our list of sponsors; there are some very cool people on there. If you know someone on the list, we'd appreciate it if you'd thank them for participating!