Officers see giving to children as a ‘joy’

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 1, 2008

This is the second in a series of stories highlighting charitable giving and the agencies in need in the Miss-Lou.

NATCHEZ — Officer Joyce Gooden-Jackson kept coming back to was joy when describing her involvement with Santa Cop.

The Natchez Police Department is in its 16th year in its tradition helping children in need during the holiday season.

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Organized by the Fraternal Order of Police, approximately 60 children are picked up by police officers the morning of Dec. 20, loaded into patrol cars and taken for a hot breakfast at McDonald’s.

Fraternal Order of Police President Sgt. Perry Bruce said the children are then taken to Walmart where necessities and presents are bought for the children.

Bruce said the shopping excursion is then followed by a lunch at Natchez Regional Medical Center.

Finally, a food basket is given to the child’s family, stuffed with all the fixings for a nice holiday meal.

Both Bruce and Gooden-Jackson said the children’s response to the day of giving is a mixture of awe and glee.

“To see the police take their time to go and do something for the children — it’s a joy for them,” Gooden-Jackson said. “Their expressions — some of them just cling to you. They don’t even want to leave after.”

She said it’s a thrill for the children to first be picked up by the police.

She’ll let the children ride up in the front and play with the blue lights and sirens and listen to calls come in over the scanner, she said.

In the 13 or 14 years she’s participated, she said the children’s excitement has never wavered.

Bruce also said the joy on the children’s faces is unmistakable.

“These kids don’t get anything for Christmas,” he said.

And the children don’t forget what the police department does for them, he said.

He said he’ll see children from time to time that he’s taken shopping and they’ll tell him hello and recount their experience to him.

The event also bolsters the relationship between the police department and the area’s youth.

“Most people see that you have to commit a crime to get involved with the police,” he said.

A lot of children seem to be afraid of the police, also, Bruce said.

“You don’t have to be afraid of the police,” he said. “We’re your friend.”

Gooden-Jackson said the duty of the police is to serve and protect, and that doesn’t just mean locking up criminals.

“You want them to know that we care about them in all aspects,” she said.

Also, getting involved with the children at a young age may help prevent them from becoming criminals in the future, she said.

The police officers get a great enjoyment out of the experience, Gooden-Jackson said.

“It’s a joy for us to be able to take them,” she said.

Even the times that she’s been working, she said she’ll stop for a moment to participate in Santa Cop and then afterward go right back to her calls.

Bruce said the officers enjoy it so much, once they get involved, they stick with it for the coming year.

“It’s rewarding,” he said. “Everyone who volunteers to do it will do it the next year.”

The children are chosen by the Natchez-Adams School District, the Salvation Army and the Department of Human Services.

Funds from approximately 900 to 1,000 donors fund the program.

Bruce said if anyone would like to be added to the donor list, all they have to do is contact the police department.