Despite the rain, Columbus Division of Police and Franklin Township Police Department got to spread some sunshine today, thanks to Blessing Bags from the group Sahara-Columbus. Their founder, Teja Kancharlapalli, contacted us a few weeks ago and asked if they could donate Thanksgiving bags for police officers to give out to people in need. We loved the idea, and thanks to CME Federal Credit Union, the Wartel Family Foundation, and individual Starfish donors, we were able to include $30 Kroger gift cards with each of those bags.
Teja established Sahara-Columbus in March, to help those affected by Covid-19. “Sahara” means “help” in Hindi, the national language of her native India. Since March the group has provided thousands of Blessing Bags to people in need, but it's more than that. “Sahara is not just about helping the community, but about helping our children understand the needs of others, and how they can help,” Teja said. To that end, the group donated bags of candy to officers protecting the city during the civil unrest in June. They were very sweetly decorated with sentiments such as, "You are my hero," at a time when they were very needed by the officers.
This time, the bags contained dry goods for Thanksgiving dinners (we enclosed a picture) and the $30 gift card so that people could make additional purchases. Fifty bags were given to the West Side--the Hilltop, Franklinton, the Southwest Side, and Franklin Township. In addition, Sahara-Columbus made up 25 bags of food for homeless people, and 50 snack bags for kids.
Each of the bags made by Sahara-Columbus is decorated by children with happy words or pictures, and some of the children who worked so hard on those bags got to meet the officers who received them. They received some cool presents from both CPD and FTPD, they got to see a police bike (and hear its very loud siren--even we were surprised!), and then they got to hear about some of the people who would be receiving their bags.
Officer Ed Chung (19 Precinct, Hilltop) talked to them in child-appropriate terms about how he'd helped save the life of a man, Walter, who had overdosed on heroin, and then got him into rehab. Long-time Starfish supporters may remember when we wrote about him in December 2018. We are thrilled to report that he's still doing well.
He also spoke of a gentleman, Larry, who he'd talked to yesterday who said that the police only ever come around when there are problems. He said he never sees them when they're doing good things. Ofc Chung, said to the kids that he told Larry he was going to go back today with some good stuff for him and see how that went.
After hearing where some of their bags would go, the children were eager to help load the officers' vehicles. They were great helpers, right up to the end!
With that, everyone was off to deliver bags! It was a lovely event. Officer Eddie Wright (8 Precinct, Franklinton) was joined by Officer Josh Rhodes (10 Precinct, Southwest Side) and his wife, Sarah, and CPD Dispatcher Nicole Mavromatis, as well as Starfish volunteer, Mason.
Officer Sean Taylor (10 Precinct) partnered with Diane Campbell, who is now the School Leadership Coach Region 1, but who was the principal of Wedgewood Middle School and still has close ties to the community. Ms. Campbell worked with Ofc Taylor to identify families who should receive bags, and as you can see from the photos, they delivered them together.
On the Hilltop, it was great to see Walter again and to know he's doing well. Larry was completely bowled over to see police officers under nice circumstances, and he happily posed for a photo with Ofc Chung and Deputy Chief Tim Becker. (As you can imagine, that was a VERY fun bag drop off!)
We had people tear up. We had people cry. We had people laugh. We had one person say, "You might not think $30 is a lot, but it really is. Thank you." But everywhere, with every bag, some joy was spread onto everyone there. Every year, joy is a wonderful thing, but this year it's particularly needed and particularly meaningful.
Thank you to CPD, FTPD, Sahara-Columbus, and our donors for making this possible. We really appreciate all of you. Happy Thanksgiving!