Missouri police help kids celebrate Christmas

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JEFFERSON CITY - Some Jefferson City kids are getting the chance at a Merry Christmas this year with the help of several Missouri law enforcement groups.

The Jefferson City Police Department is hosting its annual Operation T.O.Y.S. (Take Our Youth Shopping) event. 

Officers from Jefferson City, Cole County Sheriff's Department, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, Missouri Capitol Police, Missouri Department of Corrections and Lincoln University Police Department will each be partnered with a child in the holiday event. 

"Operation T.O.Y.S is a program that started well over twenty years ago and the point of the event is that might not normally have a good Christmas due to maybe  conditions at home," said Captain Doug Shoemaker, Special Services Division Commander and Public Information Officer for JCPD. "[It's] to give them kind of an opportunity to enjoy Christmas a little bit more."

Because the JCPD doesn't have room in its budget to pay for all of the toys itself, members of the community as well as local businesses donate funds to cover the costs. 

"We have a fund we've established that we can carry into the next year too to make sure we have support,"Shoemaker said. "But, again, [it's] a very giving community. Without them we wouldn't be able to do this."

Shoemaker says they're grateful each year for the donations they receive for the children.

"It's this great partnership between the police and public that we want to emphasize the positive side of things. The getting to know people behind the badge and getting really more involved in the community and this is a direct way to do it," Shoemaker said.

JCPD works with school resource officers within Jefferson City Public Schools to pick children who may be in need of gifts for Christmas. 

"There's certain criteria that sort of fall into that and we always have this great turnout every year," Shoemaker said. "This year we have well in excess of eighty kids.

Children and their families will begin arriving between 6:30 A.M. and 7:30 A.M. to enjoy a Walmart-sponsored breakfast and to give the officers time to bond with the children. Then they'll be paired with an officer and head to Walmart Supercenter in a police-escorted procession, lights flashing and sirens whirring. 

"At that point we'll all park and Santa will come out and greet the kids and then we'll go inside and it's a lot of fun," Shoemaker said. "At the end they even get to take their presents to some volunteers who are there to wrap the presents if they buy presents for other people."

Shoemaker says often times the children like to buy gifts for their family and friends in addition to gifts for themselves. For him the event perfectly reflects the police department's goals of community outreach.

"We've always been big proponents of community policing and this is an extension of that," Shoemaker said. "The more we can do with getting to address and deal with kids at a younger age that it doesn't have to be a negative contact. There are positive things. We're here to protect them."

Similarly, Captain John Hotz of the Missouri State Highway Patrol says participating in the event helps them reach out to the community.

"It's a great way to show our support to the community and help out those who are less fortunate and to help bring smiles to them at a time they may not otherwise have them," Hotz said.  

For Shoemaker, it's events like these that make the job worth it. 

"It's an early morning and it's just a lot of fun when you kind see these kids who are ready to go and see Santa and they're ready to go Christmas shopping," Shoemaker said. "Even 25 years in this business, it reminds you as to why you signed up and I encourage a lot of our officers to get more involved in these kinds of events because it reinforces that need reach out and to do the job for the right reasons." 

Community members can donate to the Operation T.O.Y.S fund throughout the year.