WPD's Stuff the Cruiser helps spread Christmas joy through toys

WPD's Stuff the Cruiser helps spread Christmas joy through toys

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For the 12th year in a row, the Wooster Police Department will make sure students in need from every Wooster City School will have gifts for the holidays. Cruisers will be parked in front of Walmart over the Thanksgiving weekend, and residents are asked to help stuff those cruisers with a variety of toys, games, clothes, gift cards and cash donations.

Don Hall, community resource officer with WPD, explained that prior to the cruiser event, the department used to collect canned goods for area food banks. In 2010 a now-retired officer had the idea of collecting gifts for children.

"Everything is local," said April Teichmer, a WPD school resource officer. "It's your local police department helping local kids. We're not affiliated with any other organization."

Last year Stuff the Cruiser provided holiday gifts for 234 kids of all ages in Wayne County. It begins when the department sends out a form to every school in the Wooster City School District asking the administrators, counselors and teachers to identify families who may be in need during the holidays. A different form then goes home to those households, and if they would like assistance, the form is returned listing ages of all the children in the household and some items they would like or need.

Off-duty Wooster police officers donate their time to work shifts during the event, as well as provide all the needed labor before and afterward for organizing, sorting and additional shopping.

During the Stuff the Cruiser weekend, once a cruiser is filled with items, it's transferred to an awaiting SWAT van. The van can fit four to six cruisers' worth of donations. Once full, the van is transferred to a storage/staging area where everything will later be organized, sorted and prepared for families to pick up.

"Last year we had close to 150 cruisers full of donations," Hall said.

This year Buckeye Container has donated large boxes to help with distribution. "We have a box set aside for each family, and once the donations are organized and sorted, we shop from our donations using their wish list," Teichmer said.

Each household receives a box of unwrapped gifts with items for every child in the family.

"We won't leave out a child in the household just because they are too young to be in school," Teichmer said. "So we also have needs for items for babies and toddlers."

Wooster Motorways is another local company that has been a supporter of Stuff the Cruiser, as is D+S Distribution.

"What better way to celebrate the holiday spirit than giving to those in need," said Jon Ansel, president of D+S Distribution and Integrated Logistics Services. "Being a local company with available resources and staff, the Stuff the Cruiser project is a wonderful opportunity."

The police department also is working with Old Navy to obtain donations.

The most popular items requested by the kids include pop-its, squishmellows, sports stuff and craft items.

In addition to the items listed, gift cards and cash donations are welcome and needed.

"We have a lot of high school age kids, and we never have enough donations for them," Teichmer said.

Gift cards for things like fast food and movies are appreciated. Teichmer said $15 is the perfect amount.

"We always end up with a lot of donations for the younger kids, and we don't reach our needs for the junior high and high school students," Teichmer said.

Monetary donations for Stuff the Cruiser must be cash. No personal checks or credit cards are accepted.

Teichmer reminds community members this is a collection of new items. "We've had people pull up and give us used items, and we have to take those to be donated," she said.

On-duty officers will stop by during the day to say hello and provide a break to the volunteers. If time and schedule permits, K-9 officer Diadem will be on hand at some point to greet citizens.

"We'll be giving out sticker badges," Teichmer said, "and kids will be welcome to have a look inside a cruiser."

The department also hopes to bring back Blue Santa this year. "A patrolman dresses up in our blue Santa suit," Teichmer said, "and he pulls people over for very minor infractions like maybe a turn signal or tail light — something that would normally just be a warning."

The surprise comes when Santa/Patrolman hands the citizen an envelope of holiday cash instead of a ticket.

Stuff the Cruiser will take place in the parking lot of Walmart, 3883 Burbank Road, Wooster. Cruisers expect to be stationed at the store Nov. 25, 26 and 27 from approximately 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., weather permitting.

For those wishing to contribute who can't deliver donations to the cruisers, toys or cash may be delivered to the Wooster Safety Center, 3333 Burbank Road, Wooster, during normal business hours from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

"The dedication and hard work of the Wooster Police Department combined with the generosity of our community provides hundreds of kids with a most memorable Christmas," Ansel said. "The gift of giving should be everyone’s priority.

"A special thanks to the entire Stuff a Cruiser staff. Their vision has become reality and provides happiness to a lot of kids."