Indiana Fever mascot Freddy Fever and Fever point guard Kelsey Mitchell helped Boys & Girls Clubs of Wayne County children select toys during a Dec. 7 event at the Richmond Municipal Building. Mitchell previously played for Ohio State. Photo by Mike Emery

Law enforcement provides toys while giving back to community

Trae held his new skateboard, showing great restraint.

It remained wrapped in plastic despite the Richmond Municipal Building’s long, smooth hallway. Indiana Fever mascot Freddy Fever couldn’t ignore that hallway, riding on his stomach as smiling children watched on Dec. 7.

Trae, though, resisted, tightly grasping his skateboard.

“I can’t wait to get on it,” the 10-year-old said.

He was one of 41 children from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Wayne County’s McDaniel Unit to participate in a toy giveaway with Richmond Police Department, Pacers Sports and Entertainment and JAKKS Pacific Toys.

RPD officers and local Department of Child Services staff members helped the children select from tables full of dolls, stuffed toys, play tool sets and skateboards. The big, red Freddy Fever, Indiana Pacers mascot Boomer, Fever point guard Kelsey Mitchell, and Pacemates Alexis and Leah also helped.

“I think today is probably one of my favorite days,” Trae said. “Hanging out with my friends, laughing and seeing all of the mascots and players.”

Noah was another Boys & Girls Club member bused to the city building to select a toy and enjoy cookies and punch. He also was holding a brand-new skateboard.

“I think it’s pretty fun when we get to have fun with our friends, hang out, see players and get toys,” the 9-year-old said.

This is the 13th year the Pacers and JAKKS have teamed to provide children toys during the holidays. Locations around the state rotate annually, and this was the first visit to Richmond since 2018. The Pacers-JAKKS partnership began from the longtime friendship of JAKKS founder Stephen German and Pacers Chairman and CEO Herb Simon.

“We try to spread it out to reach as many kids as possible,” said Corey Wilson, the Pacers’ vice president of community engagement. “It’s a lot of work, but you see the smiles and energy and it makes it all worth it.”

The Pacers contacted RPD about providing toys in Richmond this year, said RPD Lt. Donnie Benedict. In addition to toys provided for the Dec. 7 event, DCS staff and RPD officers have access to additional toys they can distribute to families and children in the community.

Mayor Dave Snow was thankful for the partnerships that provided the buzz of activity and Christmas spirit and said the positive interactions are crucial for the police department.

“It’s as much about the community and the future of the department,” Snow said. “These connections are critical to the department’s future growth.”

Officers also provide holiday gifts through the annual Cops and Kids program and the Blue Angels Fund. In addition, Centerville Police Department and Centerville Fire/Rescue annually conduct a food drive to provide Thanksgiving and Christmas meals for families.

Just the weekend before the toy giveaway, members of the countywide John W. Hennigar Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 63 hosted 28 children for Cops and Kids.

RPD, Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, Centerville and Cambridge City officers treated children to shopping sprees at Meijer. A convoy of law enforcement vehicles transported the children to shop for toys, clothes and essentials.

“It’s just a way for us to get out in the community and give back to the kids we’re serving every day,” said RPD Lt. Zach Taylor, the FOP lodge’s president. “We can brighten a kid’s holiday a little bit.”

The FOP worked with Communities in Schools counselors to select two children from each Wayne County elementary school CIS serves. Another family with six children was referred to the program, and six children impacted by a house fire also participated.

Helping a child select needed warm clothing and pick out a cherished toy shows the child a side of officers they might not see during on-duty interactions.

“As officers, we deal with a child and a family at the low point of their life or day,” Taylor said. “It’s important to help them see us in a different light than they normally see us.”

RPD’s Blue Angels Fund provides some financial support to the Cops and Kids event, and it will help two other families with their holidays, said John Lackey, a retired RPD officer.

Lackey spurred the Blue Angels Fund’s development after a December 2015 crash killed a mother of six. Wanting to help the woman’s children, Lackey, with support from then-Chief Jim Branum, raised $2,000 in 10 days to provide the children gifts.

When donations continued after the holiday, RPD began the Blue Angels Fund. Officers can tap into the fund anytime when they see a need, especially among children. Then, at Christmas, the fund provides help for families selected by officers.

The Blue Angels Fund has additionally partnered with the local DCS office to provide gifts for 78 children in 2021 and 44 in 2020. This year, however, Lackey said funds are not available to provide that scope of assistance.

Instead, two families have been identified to receive holiday help, Lackey said.

Blue Angels Fund donations may be made through the Richmond City Employees Credit Union on the second floor of the city building. They may also be mailed to the credit union at 50 N. Fifth St., Richmond, IN 47374.

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Mike Emery is a reporter and layout editor for the Western Wayne News.