Officers seeks to fill charity gap

GREENFIELD — The aisles of the Greenfield Walmart have been packed this week with last-minute Christmas shoppers. With their lists in hand, ready for a second check before heading to the cash register, these buyers hustle up and down the rows of toys, clothes and goodies, grabbing everything they’ll need for a happy holiday.

Inconspicuous among them Monday was a small group of volunteers, looking to bring the same joy to more than a dozen Hancock County families that expressed a last-minute need of a different kind.

About 15 families reached out to the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department for a little extra help after its annual charity program, Shop with a Deputy, already had passed. Administrative assistant Amy West, who coordinates the program each year, said these families — most from Eastern Hancock schools — fell through the cracks of other assistance organizations, and the department was happy to fill the void.

Monday, West and a few Eastern Hancock student volunteers headed to Walmart to buy for fellow students in need, dipping into funds that would have kick-started the program’s 2016 fund.

When the school district contacted the sheriff’s department last week for help, West felt compelled to help again, she said.

“I’ll come up with a cutoff someday,” she said with a laugh, “but I couldn’t say no.”

The department’s Shop with a Deputy event took place earlier this month, when about 25 kids went a shopping with deputies and jail officers Dec. 5. Each child received $300 to divide between clothing and toys.

West wasn’t able to pull together a trip of that size at the last minute but decided instead to enlist a few Royals willing to go shopping for their classmates.

Morgan Collins, an Eastern junior, said exchanging Christmas presents is one of her favorite parts about the holiday, but giving gifts to those in need makes the tradition a lot more fun.

“I complain about not getting what I want sometimes, but by doing this, I’m able to see how other kids have it,” the 17-year-old said.

Eastern Hancock Community Schools collects money from community members and school fundraisers for its Benevolence Fund, an account that provides financial assistance for Royals families in need. The district hands out those dollars throughout the year via the schools’ counseling departments. The assistance is confidential and can be used to cover athletics fees, school supplies, field trips or any other educational expenses.

During the holiday season, the school helps connect at-risk students with resources in the community that offer some Christmas assistance, said Eastern Hancock Elementary Principal Amanda Pyle.

The families are traditionally connected with the United Christmas Service first, Pyle said. If they don’t qualify for aid there, the district looks for other families or organizations to sponsor the students before administrators turn to Benevolence Fund monies for holiday gifts, she said.

The sheriff’s department keeps a little money on hand after its annual shopping spree to help families that find themselves in need a bit closer to Christmas. Those funds, coupled few sizable donations that rolled in after the event, including one from the Greenfield Rotary Club and Greenfield resident Terry Turner, whose annual Christmas light display collected $500 recently, allowed West to allocate about $150 for each student.

Peyton West said she was surprised to hear there were so many of her classmates in need of help this holiday season. She grew up watching her mom organize the shopping event, but she was only recently allowed to help out with shopping. She recruited some friends to help with Monday’s shopping trip, eager to let them experience the same warmth she always feels when helping these kids in need, she said.

“Seeing their reactions is priceless,” the 16-year-old said.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.