On Monday, December 21, 125 kids will storm Meijer with gift cards in hand and 130 police officer chaperones by their sides, during the 7th annual 12 Kids of Christmas. This event, organized by a couple of police officers, provides kids in need with a day where they feel privileged. And these kids, many of whom have met police officers under more serious circumstances, will spend the day with no concerns but the holiday spirit.
Kids and Christmas
“I’ve always been a fan of kids and Christmas,” said Toledo Police Officer, Joe Okos, who along with fellow officer, Zach Stewart, started the annual event. They began with just 12 kids, as a project for the local non-profit, Feet on the Street, which works to help engage police and firefighters with the community. The next year, it grew to 25 kids, and then 50, then 100, and finally to 125 this year.
Over 130 officers from the Toledo Police Department, Ohio Highway Patrol, Lucas County Sheriffs and the University of Toledo will volunteer their time to be paired with one of the 125 kids. The officers will drive the kids to Meijer and walk with them down the aisles as the kids pick out their Christmas gifts.
Meijer donates most of the money for the event, with help from other fundraisers throughout the year. Vito’s, will serve pizza to all the kids and officers when they return to the Huntington Center with their gifts. There will be live music, photos with Santa and petting animals from the Toledo Zoo. After the party, all of the kids will go home with gifts in hand, having made a friend in an officer.
Truly in need
“I know that each child is truly in need,” said Okos. Many of the kids, referred by Lucas County Children Services, have been subjected to neglect and/or abuse, while some have been removed from their parents’ homes. For many of the kids 12 Kids of Christmas is a much-needed escape. The event also provides an opportunity for the kids to see police officers in a positive context, instead of during traumatic times.
“This event shows them a softer, gentler side of officers,” said Sherry Dunn, the Public Information Specialist for Children Services. “The kids realize officers are people, too,” said Dunn. “The kids have so much fun talking and spending time with them… [m]any of them, after the event, want to be officers, too!”
Not just for the kids
“It’s nice to see their little, happy faces,” said Officer Danielle Kasprzak, who has volunteered with 12 Kids of Christmas for the past 12 years. Kasprzak is known as “Rudolph” because she drives the lead car, outfitted with antlers, on the way to Meijer.
Each year, Kasprzak watches kids warm up after meeting a police officers for the first time. The first year she volunteered, she chaperoned a girl who was initially very quiet and standoffish, albeit sweet: she wanted to spend her whole gift card on clothes and toys for her brother. Kasprzak had to make sure that the girl bought at least some toys for herself. “She went from arms folded… to hugging me by the end of the day,” said Kasprzak, who was committed to the event after that. Each year she looks forward to Christmas because it is time for 12 Kids of Christmas. “We don’t get to feel good about being cops often enough,” said Kasprzak. “Here, we get to feel good about being police.”
If you would like to get involved or make a donation to 12 Kids of Christmas, go to feetstreet.org
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Dorian Slaybod is an attorney happily living in Toledo.