EAST PEORIA, Ill. — Christmas came early this year for dozens of central Illinois kids thanks to local law enforcement officers.
Wednesday night, nearly 30 kids from Richland Farms in East Peoria, had the time of their lives by being taken to Wal-Mart to get brand new shoes they were able to pick out themselves.
The Fon Du Lac Park District and East Peoria Police have a program through the Center of Youth and Family Solutions, where the departments raise money for kids who live in low-income areas.
This year, the donation came through Wal-Mart.
Fon Du Lac Park District Director Michael Johnson says this is a great way to create a bond between the kids and police. He adds that the shoes are something the kids really need this winter.
“Shoes, gloves, hats, that kinda thing is very important. Because a lot of these homes aren’t very warm down there. They’re extremely old buildings, they don’t have good installation in them. Sometimes people are using electric space heaters to heat their home,” Johnson said.
Johnson says his favorite part of doing this was seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces.
“It went over very well. The kids were extremely happy, the parents were extremely happy. We take advantage that buying a pair of shoes is something we think is very common, but for some folks, that’s a lot. Ya know, $70, $80 and if you’ve got 3-4 kids that adds up really quick.”
Johnson said that since state funding has been cut, these programs run completely on donations.
Next Monday, Dec. 23, the departments are having a Christmas party at the Richland Farms Community Center where they’re giving kids Christmas gifts.
Johnson adds that there’s many other things the departments do with the kids who live in Richland Farms.
“We do programs like ‘Kids in the Kitchen.’ We do that once a week where kids come and get to work with a chef and learn how to make basic meals. In our department, we do annual hay-rack rides and fundraisers for the kids so they can have a summer camp every year,” Johnson said.
He adds that many of these events the departments put on are things most kids never get to do.
“One of the things we did with the kids is we took them out on the police boats last year. They had a ball. Some of them had never been on a boat before,” Johnson said.
“Once a month we have a food pantry we open up and it serves up about 35-40 families. The ones who can’t come, we’ll load meals up in our vehicles and we’ll take them to the houses for a lot of our senior services,” Johnson added.
Johnson adds that by doing programs like this, it helps police departments build trust with the families they serve and builds stronger relationships.
“It’s nice to be able to have the kids come up to us, talk to us, and not be afraid of us. It also provides us a resource in the community so when crime does occur in that area, we have people who are willing to talk to us because they know we’re there to help them,” Johnson said.
If you’d like to get involved in supporting the kids, you can head to The Center for Youth and Family Solutions’ website here.