Students have a bright Christmas thanks to Target, police and community members
Christmas was a little brighter for 33 Parkland students thanks to 35 South Whitehall and Upper Macungie police officers and three Target stores.
Helping with additional funds and donations at the third annual Heroes and Helpers shopping event Dec. 6 were the Parkland School District Education Foundation, David M. and Elizabeth Kennedy, Greenawalds United Church of Christ and other churches in the community, and Cetronia Ambulance Corps.
“Heroes and Helpers is a program designed to help pair in-need youth from the community with law enforcement,” said Robert Dick, executive team leader with Target assets protection. “It is the latest evolution of a number of programs that have dated back many years, most notably ‘Shop with a Cop.’”
Target in South Whitehall received $2,300 with significant contributions from the Lower Macungie and Quakertown Target stores, Dick said.
“They [students] received $150 each this year and team members were on-hand to help them with our Cartwheel savings app and to assist in maximizing the discounts to help their funds go as far as possible,” Dick said. “This year’s event went very well. We had more kids and police than ever, and with some logistical changes we made in the planning, things went very smoothly.
He said the outpouring of support from all the store’s partners “went well above and beyond” this year.
“Parkland Education Foundation absolutely moved mountains to help make this even the biggest yet, and Mission BBQ in Whitehall, and Cetronia Ambulance helped make the “after-party” for the kids a great success,” Dick said. “I want to thank everyone who helped, but I can’t recall every partner business and volunteer that came out. It was just an amazing event this year.”
Upper Macungie Township Police Lt. Peter Nickischer also commented on the day’s festivities.
“The event is a true ‘win’ for everyone involved,” Nickischer said. “In my opinion, Christmas, and the holiday season in general, is a truly magical time of the year.
“This event always puts me in the holiday spirit- and I love meeting a new student every year and getting to know them better.”
In addition to himself, Nickischer said 15 police officers from Upper Macungie, including Chief Edgardo A Colón, Lt. Michael J. Sitoski, Sgts. Joseph Geczi, Stephen Marshall, Cory Reader, Dathan Schlegel, Detective Adam Miller, Officers Robert Djevharian, Michael Holtz, David Malichewski, Timothy Peters, William Rohrbach, Joshua Santos, Philip Shedaker and K-9 Officer Ryan Rhoads participated.
“We wouldn’t be involved without the amazing people of the South Whitehall Township Police Department, who invite us back every year to participate,” Nickischer said. “Target never ceases to amaze me with how generous and kind their staff is with the children.
“They are incredible people who truly care for their community.”
Nickischer said the event went extremely well.
“We wrapped gifts in the Target break room, and that worked really well, because there were many children, officers and volunteers involved.”
Nickischer also noted Cetronia Ambulance volunteered its training room to use.
“Also, I might add that Wakefern in Upper Macungie Township made a very generous donation of items for use at the after-party.
“Thank you Wakefern.”
The 19 officers from South Whitehall were Chief John Christman, Capt. Jason Negron, Lt. Mark Ruff, Sgts. Stephen Brown, Kevin Edelheiser, Ronald Scholler, Detectives Jerome Cramer, Timothy Shoudt, Officers Justino Arroyo, Thomas Bammer, Nicholas Erdo, Darvin Faust, Andrew Gardo, Michelle Geiger, Kevin Smith, Stacey Surdan, Jaryd Winkelbauer, K-9 Officer Colin Beaumont and Youth Detective David Jones.
Christman also commented on the day and its positive effect on the community.
“In modern policing, a strong relationship with the community is essential for success,” Christman said. “Events like Heroes and Helpers build that bond of trust between citizens and officers.
The police chief said Heroes and Helpers provided a positive experience not just for the children but for their families, the volunteers and the police officers.
“It really is a special program,” Christman said. “I can’t imagine a holiday season without this event. It has become a tradition.
“Some of the officers had worked night shift and participated instead of sleeping.
“Quite a few of the officers brought their wives or girlfriends along to help with shopping and gift wrapping.”
Christman gave credit for the event to Melissa Hudak and Michelle Lederer, the administrative branch of the South Whitehall Police Department.
“They put a lot of time and effort into making Heroes and Helpers a great success,” Christman said. “A special thanks to all the businesses and individuals who contributed generously to the success of this year’s event.
“Of course, Target, Mission BBQ, Trixie’s Treats in Allentown, Cetronia Ambulance Corps, the Parkland Education Foundation, and Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus.
“Finally, I would like to thank Chief Edgardo Colón and the Upper Macungie Police Department.
“This event is much too large for the South Whitehall Police Department to handle by itself.
“I am proud of the strong working relationship we share with the Upper Macungie Police Department. This is an excellent example of what we can accomplish when our agencies work together.
“We make a great team both in emergency situations and in community events like this one.”
Nicole Mehta McGalla, director of community relations and development with the Parkland School District, provided information on the district’s participation.
There were three students from each of the 11 schools in the school district who participated, McGalla said.
“We were able to increase the program from 22 last year to 33 this year with a donation from our School Board President David Kennedy,” McGalla said. “The Parkland Education Foundation is also a contributor for this event.”
She said students were selected by guidance counselors and principals of each building.
“The goal was to choose students who were in need of some extra cheer this time of year as they might have experienced an unfortunate event recently or the family has fallen on hard times,” McGalla said. “This program is designed to foster relationships with the police force in our community.
“It is a super heartwarming event and we are happy to help make connections for this awesome community-driven event.”
Kate Kareha, executive director of the education foundation, explained how the foundation became involved.
“The Heroes and Helpers program came to us from Diane Irish (social worker with the school district) for the second year in a row in the form of a Parkland Education Foundation Celebrate Innovation Grant application in spring 2016,” Kareha said.
She said Parkland staff can apply for grants through the foundation as a way to enrich the curriculum or create innovative programs that benefit a wide range of students and staff.
The foundation awarded a grant in the amount of $1,500 to Heroes and Helpers.
“School Board President David Kennedy and his wife, Elizabeth, also made a donation of $1,100 to the foundation to support this program,” Kareha said. “Therefore, our total gift was $2,600.”
Kennedy spoke with The Press about his donation.
“My wife and I have been very fortunate with a great education and worked hard to be able to give back to the children,” Kennedy said. “It is truly a blessing to see the smiles on the kids faces shopping at Target with their police officer.
“Just to be able to make their Christmas a little happier, makes my Christmas a little happier.”
The morning of Heroes and Helpers began with students and police making Christmas lists, then going shopping and wrapping gifts for their family members and pets at Target.
This was followed by the students and police traveling by school bus to Cetronia Ambulance Corps for a holiday party featuring a photo booth, lunch provided by Mission BBQ and a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus from Dream Events, Northampton.
Prior to the students and officers boarding the buses for their return trip to the individual schools after the party, each child was given a backpack filled with toiletries and school supplies donated by Greenawalds United Church of Christ and other area churches along with a T-shirt from Cetronia Ambulance Corps.
Donna Field with Greenawalds United Church of Christ commented on how they heard about the event and the items they donated to the students.
“We heard about Heroes and Helpers through a counselor in the Parkland School District,” Field said. “This person is very active in Family Promise of Lehigh County, a nonprofit initiative to aid homeless families.
“UCC Greenawalds is active and involved in the Family Promise program since its inception and will become a host site for families when the program is ready to begin.
“The congregation participates in a gift-giving mission project each December and we chose Heroes and Helpers because we were aware of the need in the Parkland School District.
“Items were easy to purchase necessities and well received by our members.”
Field said they posted a Christmas tree display on the sanctuary wall with handmade gift cards listing the items to purchase.
“Members took a gift card, purchased items and returned the items to the church,” Field said. “Our collection was held Nov. 20 to Dec. 4.”
The mission team then packed the items into backpacks to be delivered to the recipients, Field said.
“Our church was assigned to provide toiletries as part of the backpack contents. We provided shampoo, body lotion, hand soap, lip balm, tissues and deodorant,” Field said. “Other churches provided school supplies, snacks, small toys, etc., to completely fill the backpacks.”
CEO Larry Wiersch, of Cetronia Ambulance Corps, commented on donating the corps facility for the after-party.
“Cetronia is incredibly thankful to be able to support families in need in cooperation with our other community partners,” Wiersch said. “This program [Heroes and Helpers] embodies the spirit of community and support that aligns perfectly with Cetronia Ambulance Corps’ mission.
“Sharing with others and offering what we can to help others in any way we can is why we embraced this program and offered our Joint Operations facility as a place to host these wonderful children and their families.”
South Whitehall Township Board of Commissioners President Christina “Tori” Morgan discussed the festivities.
“What an amazing sense of holiday spirit and community,” Morgan said. “We are again blessed to have the opportunity to be a part of an event which touches the hearts of everyone involved.
“Our sincere gratitude to all who made this possible, South Whitehall and Upper Macungie township police, Target, Parkland School District and Education Foundation, David and Elizabeth Kennedy, Cetronia Ambulance Corps, Mission BBQ, Trixie’s Treats, Christmas City Studios and Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus.”
Parkland School District Superintendent Richard Sniscak also spoke with The Press about this year’s Heroes and Helpers.
“From a school district perspective, we are very appreciative of the efforts of both the South Whitehall and Upper Macungie township police in participating with the Parkland School District and Target to make the lives of some of our neediest children’s Christmas more enjoyable this holiday season,” Sniscak said. “We wish to thank the police wives who volunteered today and the Parkland Education Foundation who donated to this cause and all other donors who made this day possible for these children.
“A special thanks to Santa and Mrs. Claus for making a guest appearance and visiting with the children today.”