When the Pikeville, Ky., police department began its Shop with a Cop program 16 years ago, the goal was to provide a little Christmas cheer for a handful of kids in need.
“When we started, we held a car wash to raise the money to provide gifts for about eight to 10 children, but it’s grown a lot since then,” said Pikeville Police Chief Mike Riddle.
Now known as Christmas with a First Responder, the program has been expanded to include 911 dispatchers as well as the Pikeville Fire Department and goes far beyond the holiday season. In addition to providing clothes and toys at Christmastime, Pikeville first responders also donate food for a family feast and sponsor school supply giveaways to help get students off on the right foot academically.
“We put in countless hours throughout the year to make it happen,” Riddle said. “As soon as the holidays are over, we start working on the next year and we don’t stop until the following December.”
One ‘fore’ all
According to Pikeville City Manager Philip Elswick, the Christmas with a First Responder program is just one way public safety officials strive to make a positive connection with the children in the community. Too often, a child’s first experience with a first responder is a negative one that comes on the heels of a difficult situation, and it is important for them to see the police and fire department as mentors and friends in good times as well as in bad. “What they do goes far beyond the holidays,” Elswick said.
Naturally, it takes a lot of time, talent, and treasure to provide for nearly 50 children during the holidays. There is not a weekend that goes by in which Pikeville first responders aren’t doing something to raise money for the cause. Throughout the year they hold a 5K run, a dunking booth, a car wash and more to generate capital, not to mention finding businesses to help sponsor events and create more awareness for the program.
“We used to do a haunted trail at the sports park, but we lost our spot there so we’ve had to look for other ways to make money. That’s when someone came up with the idea of a golf scramble,” Elswick said.
Organized by officer Josh Lawson and Detective Bruce Collins, the inaugural Christmas with a First Responder Golf Scramble took place Aug. 15 at the Stonecrest Golf Club in Prestonsburg, Ky. Thanks to the sponsors of individual holes as well as the 18 teams of four that participated, the event raised approximately $25,000 for the program.
Lawson is a golfer who has played in similar events in the past and knew it was the kind of event that had the potential to raise a lot of cash with little effort on the part of the police and fire departments.
“The golf course puts out the signs for the sponsored holes because they don’t want anyone to damage the course and we had a restaurant that donated food for the day. So, it was a really nice event, and we didn’t have to work out butts off for it,” he said with a laugh. “There is definitely talk that we will be doing it again.”
Kenny Sampson of the Pikeville Fire Department played in the golf scramble along with his son and a few friends who put together a team. He said he took the day off to be part of the event and said he thinks it was a great way to give back and be part of the Christmas program.
“It’s really a great program and I’ll do anything to help out with it,” he said.
The fruits of their labor
Lawson said he’s been with the department for 15 years. During that time, he has been impressed at how much the Christmas with a First Responder program has grown. He said he thinks they will raise enough to be able to spend $300 on each child this year, and he is looking forward to their morning with the kids when they finally get to give them their gifts.
“It’s a great day,” he said. “Our local McDonalds hosts a breakfast and Santa and Mrs. Claus stop in to visit with the kids, then we get to give them their presents and their food baskets. For some, this might be the only Christmas they receive, so we want to be sure and make it special for them.”
Riddle said the Pikeville Christmas with a First Responder Program has developed a reputation and over the years has become a family event. His own children take part in the various fundraising efforts and attend the final party in which they get to see the fruits of their labor. “Being part of this effort is really heartwarming and something that we enjoy doing,” he said. “It takes a lot of people, a lot of weekends and a lot of events, but it’s worth it; and when you have 12-13 people available to help at any given time, you know something is going to happen. We never stop!”