By Daniel Silliman
The Riverdale Police Department took time this weekend to play Santa Claus to five families who have been victims of traumatic crimes.
Supported by local businesses, the department spent a day of "holiday sharing and gift giving" with the families on Sunday, in a program called "Christmas with a Cop," Officer Nicole Rabel said.
"In a community, we need to be supportive of each other," Rabel said, "Especially in a time of need. This program provides those of us who are in fortunate situations, or are in positive situations, an opportunity to give to those who are not in a positive place ... We can emanate our strength and peace towards them."
Formerly called "Shop with a Cop," Rabel reorganized the holiday program this year to link officers with crime-affected families, and focus more on family-oriented activities.
"I think what's really good about it," Rabel said, "is the officers working with the families are the officers who were at the initial call, or who were investigating the families' cases. Those traumatic situations are also a lot of pressure on the officers, so it's good to be able to see how the families are moving forward and getting into a more positive situation."
At 9:30 a.m., the five families, police officers and some Riverdale firefighters gathered in the break room of the Riverdale Wal-Mart, heard a holiday story and built gingerbread houses. The families then shopped at Wal-Mart, with money provided by the Wal-Mart Community Grant Program, and returned to the break room for lunch, provided by Riverdale's Subway and Pizza Hut.
Santa Claus -- a recent graduate of the citizens police academy -- passed out gifts, which were donated by local businesses, including Riverdale's Home Depot. The families then went to a holiday movie at Galaxy Funplex.
John Stonaker, manager of the Riverdale Wal-Mart, said he knew he wanted the store to participate in the police department's program as soon as he heard about it.
"It's a good cause for some good people that need help," Stonaker said, "and our police department is involved in it -- that was a big part of it, because they're working hard, and we need to do what little bit we can do for them."
Stonaker, who has only recent begun to manage the store, said he was privileged to be involved, because it is a way to support the police department and the community.
"Our community is the reason Wal-Mart is here," he said. "Whatever we can do to help them, we want to do. The police department of Riverdale has been very supportive of our store. They're on point, and they do a fantastic job. I was just glad they allowed me to participate."