SHIRLEY — When two police cars rolled up to the curb in front of Katy Piper’s house, she wasn’t sure what to think.
The single mother of four initially was anxious when she greeted Town Marshal Brian Pryor and detective Brent Burris in her driveway.
But her jaw dropped when the two officers opened the trunk of their squad car, stuffed full of Christmas presents and a basket full of food. Piper covered her face with her hands and began to weep as the smiling officers carried the gifts into her home and placed them under the tree.
The Shirley Police Department visited with three families Saturday, giving away dozens of toys for their children along with plenty of warm clothes and a basket of Christmas goodies. This is the second year the department has worked to reach out to families in need, Pryor said.
“I was pretty sure I was going to jail before I saw Officer Pryor smile,” Piper laughed as she wiped tears away from her face.
Around the holidays, she has to work extra hard to make sure her family is taken care of, Piper said. She never would have been able to deliver so many gifts for her children without this surprise, she added.
“I’m more than thankful to see I’m in a community that recognizes I am trying,” Piper said.
Her 5-year-old son, Landon Leisure, stood in the driveway with his mouth agape when the presents started coming in.
“I can’t even — this has never happened,” Landon sputtered. “I didn’t know we’d get this much for Christmas.”
Along with footballs, racetracks, skateboards and scooters, the officers brought hats, gloves and other winter clothes for the families.
Additionally, they provided the families with ham, potatoes, canned vegetables and an apple pie.
“It would be a shorter list to tell you what we didn’t collect,” Burris said with a chuckle.
Over the course of the year, the police department discussed families they knew in the community who might need a helping hand around Christmas time, Pryor said. They connected with a few local businesses, who lent the department a hand in their charitable campaign.
Gift cards were donated by Meijer and My-te Products Inc., and employees at TCC Cellular Connection also made contributions, Burris said.
The department’s goal is to try and improve their relationship with the community by showing citizens that interactions with the police aren’t always born of something negative, he added.
They hope that by connecting with citizens on a personal level, the program can serve as an icebreaker with the public, Pryor said.
Of course, the benign surprise still catches the families off guard.
“What’s probably the greatest thing: Most people see us show up in uniform, and they’re like “Oh no, what’s wrong,” Pryor said with a laugh.
“I can’t tell you how awesome it is to see the expressions on their faces when they see the police show up and they start pulling out presents,” Burris added. “It’s a complete surprise to them. They have no idea we’re doing this.”
Seeing the surprise in their eyes is a rush of emotions, Pryor said. Being able to make a difference in the lives of people who just need a little help is a significant moment.
The opportunity to give means just as much to the officers as it does to those receiving the gifts, Pryor added. Burris agreed.
“Man, it makes you feel really really good for doing something for your community like this,” Burris said. “Seeing the smiles, that’s what’s in it for me.”
One family the police department gave gifts to this year belonged to one of their own. Lt. Josh Miller, a part-time policeman, was invited to help with the gift-giving program Saturday. He and his children, Sam and Callie, came along for the trip, completely unaware they were on the nice list.
Before the police department moved out to play Santa Claus to the three families in town, Pryor surprised the Millers when he told him that they were the first stop.
Pryor pulled a blanket covering a table stacked high with brightly-wrapped Christmas presents. Callie, 5, and Sam, 11, stared at the table in disbelief for a moment before their faces lit up with joy.
Sam and Callie rushed to the table and tore open dozens of gifts. Nerf guns and a radio for Sam, play horses and dolls for Callie.
“I felt like I was going to faint,” Callie said.
Miller wasn’t sure how to respond to the act of kindness his department showed him. He wasn’t able to give his children as much as he’d wanted to this year, but his friends came through for him.
“That was overwhelming. I’m shaking,” Miller said. “This makes me proud to be part of this department.”