HANCOCK COUNTY — Kaleb Pierce was shaky on his rollerblades, so Missy Wilcher reached out a steady hand.

The tyke was one of about a dozen kids who recently went to a skating party hosted by officers from the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department. Clasping Wilcher’s hand, he found the courage to scoot around the rink, a smile stretched across his face.

Wilcher’s gesture to little Kaleb — the reaching out of a helpful hand to someone in need — is commonplace the jail sergeant who has taken the lead this year to organize several department fundraisers aimed at ensuring those around her are able to enjoy the holidays.

For years, Wilcher has been a smiling face among the sea of brown uniforms during the annual Shop with a Deputy program, which provides children in need with toys at Christmastime.

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This year, however, the longtime volunteer stepped up to organize the annual event but also expand it, offering the county’s youngsters a second night of fun, rollerblading alongside many of the same officers who took them on a shopping spree just weeks before.

Wilcher has become a familiar presence during local fundraisers aimed at ensuring those around her have a merry Christmas. Last week at the skating rink, she grinned while watching as a crowd of rollerblade-wearing kids made circles around an inflatable Santa Claus sitting center-rink during the skating party at the Gibson Skating Arena in New Castle.

The reason behind her willingness to take on department fundraisers is a simple one; it’s the same reason she ultimately decided to become a jail officer, she said.

“I just like helping people,” she said. “And whether they are kids or inmates, they are just people to me.”

Wilcher’s sister, Amy West, who also works for the sheriff’s department, handled the organization of the Shop with a Deputy for years before Wilcher took the reins in 2016. With West’s guidance and helping hand, Wilcher brought more than two dozen children and an equal number of officers together for this year’s hunt for Christmas presents the kids wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise.

Each child was allowed to spend $300 on clothing, toys, books and shoes from the local Wal-Mart.

Seeing the joy on every face inspired Wilcher to take the department’s winter outreach a bit further this year and expand the fun-filled morning to a second night, when kids could spend more time with the officers who had taken them shopping.

Wilcher used leftover funding from this year’s Shop with a Deputy program to rent Gibson Skating Arena in New Castle for an evening and invite the youngsters and their families out to skate, play games and enjoy snack foods.

It’s something Wilcher said she would like to continue every year because it gives families another opportunity to see public safety officers away from the lights and sirens, away from the tough situations in which kids usually encounter police.

Wilcher’s readiness to help others inspires those around her to do the same, her colleagues said.

Andrew Pfaff, who works with Wilcher as an officer in the local jail, said Wilcher’s positivity makes doing the tough job of guarding the jail a little easier. Seeing her willingness to serve the community, beyond just wearing a law enforcement uniform, makes the people she works with want to do the same, he said.

This year, Wilcher rallied the sheriff’s department’s staffers to participate in No Shave November, a national fundraising campaign that encourages men to grow facial hair while donating money to cancer prevention efforts, research or to help those with the disease.

The department raised more than $600 for a local family in need whose matriarch is fighting cancer. Wilcher said at the time of the fundraiser that she organized the endeavor because she wanted to make the battle a little easier for that family, especially ahead of the holiday season.

At her urging, about 30 of the sheriff’s department’s officers, including deputies on road patrol, jail officers and courthouse security, donated $20 to shirk department policy and grow a beard for the month of November.

A few weeks later, Wilcher and a group of jail officers — whom she affectionately refers to as her Christmas elves – stood outside a holiday light display in Greenfield to collect money for the 2017 Shop with a Deputy program. They braved the cold for hours to collect some $700.

“Her involvement makes us want to get involved,” Pfaff said. “She’s always encouraging us to be out in the community.”

Last week as Buster Hubble, Wilcher’s father, watched his daughter glide around the arena, he said it brought memories to mind of when he used to take his own children skating on the weekends years ago.

He said he was proud of his daughter for taking the time to think of others.

“Most people won’t do something like this,” Hubble said.

Donations still accepted

Fundraising for Shop with a Deputy, the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department’s annual outreach program for children in need, goes on year-round. You can donate by sending a check to the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, 123 E. Main St., Greenfield, IN 46140.

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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.