Beyond the Badge: Santa’s Elficers stepping in to bring Christmas magic to kids
SOUTH BEND, Ind. --- ABC57’s Holiday Heroes series continues with a special installment of Beyond the Badge.
This week, Michiana gets an inside look at the South Bend Police Department where the Santa’s Elficers program is in full swing and this year they are making Christmas happen for more children than ever before.
“We see families that they are day to day they're just struggling just to feed their children,” Patrol Officer First Class Stephanie Northcutt said.
The South Bend Fraternal Order of Police, or FOP, Lodge #36, has hosted a Christmas program for years, but never quite this big.
“When we started it was like maybe five, six families,” Northcutt said. “We had a very small amount of people that we helped, it was usually like officer referrals. And it's just grown exponentially last year. We helped 184 kids, we're on track to help more this year.”
Stephanie Northcutt has been with the department for six years. She is just one of many bringing Christmas magic to the kids of South Bend.
“Maybe somebody has a terminal illness, a house fire where they've lost everything,” Vice President of FOP #36 and Patrol Officer First Class Joshua Morgan said.
Josh Morgan has been a Patrol Officer with the department for 16 years. He is also the Vice President of FOP Lodge #36, which is basically like a police union, and heads the Santa’s Elficers initiative.
“For me it's a little personal. I come from a family of four,” Morgan said. And we were one of those families. For two years in a row we were a donation family, basically where we were on The Giving Tree. So it's kind of a, you know, returning the favor. Paying it forward for me personally.”
Josh said toys are important, but there are needs, such as jackets and coats, that are expensive.
“So that can really be a financial burden on some families,” he said.
Josh said this year they are seeing a need like never before.
“They actually were putting some of their needs like they wanted just hygiene products,” he explained.
Families substituting wants, such as toys, on their wish lists with things many take for granted.
“They needed clothes, but they wanted hygiene products,” he said.
Officers spend the whole year keeping an eye out for families who might need a little extra help from Santa.
“I wanted to do something a lot bigger because I knew that we could help a lot more people,” Northcutt said.
Just last year, Santa’s Elficers started taking applications because of such a high demand.
“It's been just an amazing transition to see how big this program has become and what we're able to do and how many more people we're able to reach out to,” Patrol Officer First Class Randall McMurraysaid.
Officer Randall McMurray’s seen the program grow in a big way during the last two to three years.
“It has been absolutely amazing to see how much we've gotten from the community,” McMurray said.
Last year, FOP #36 put out a call for the community’s help for the first time because they couldn’t do it alone.
“For people that don't even know, you know, know who they're donating to,” McMurray said. “And they're doing that, you know, taking away from their families to give to other families is just an amazing thing to see.That's the goodness that people have. It creates a feeling of good to be able to help others and it doesn't necessarily mean that you have to go out and spend 200 bucks on someone... going to the store and getting some canned goods or, you know, seeing what seeing what items you might have in your pantry that you don't need anymore, you know, donating those things goes a long way.”
There are a lot of officers and volunteers behind-the-scenes making the program possible.
“We have a lot of unsung heroes that are that are helping with this,” Morgan said.
To keep up with the magic of the holiday, officers and volunteers make deliveries to local families all the way up to Christmas Eve.
“We walk into the house, they may or may not have a Christmas tree, so we try to provide them a Christmas tree if possible,” Morgan said. “You walk in and if they have Christmas tree, sometimes there's nothing under the Christmas tree until we put something there and their eyes light up. Big smile. Lots of hugs. And lots of thank yous.”
“It honestly brings chills, it really does,” Northcutt said. “Knowing that you can do just a little part to make sure that not only their days easier, but their holidays are brighter. It's heartwarming.”
Santa’s Elficers is a twofold program, according to Northcutt.
“We have a need that our community needs to see us in a different light, not just on a negative scale,” she said. “This gives officers that opportunity that they can go out and interact with community in a positive way. A lot of times you'll see those kids, when we see them on the street. They recognize us and even if they don't know you personally, they recognize that uniform and they know that that's a good guy.”
“This is what I'm supposed to do,” McMurray said. “This is as a human, as an officer for this department, for this community. These are the things that I'm supposed to do. So, I really don't see it as anything that's doing extra or going above and beyond. It's just what I'm supposed to do. To serve my community and to serve my fellow human being.”
“The amount of children that this affects within our community is pretty great,” Morgan said. “I really wish that more of the community could see the smiles, the hugs, the tears of joy that we can see because it really does make those data donations worthwhile. And it makes what we do worthwhile.”
“I think that it's something that's just institutional to being a human being, is being able to help others, especially if you're able to,” McMurray said. “So, it's something that is within South Bend. I've seen it. I know it's there. You know, I think it surprised a lot of people to see that it's there, but it is. There's a lot of people that want to do good. There's a lot of people that want to help just as much in this department. There are a lot of officers that want to help and want to do good and they'll do whatever they can to do that. And I think that mirrors our community as well.”
Santa’s Elficers is still in need of donations, including toys, food, hygiene products and blankets. There is also a huge demand for clothing this year.
If you want to make any donations to Santa’s Elficers, you can bring them directly to the South Bend Police Department. There are bins in the lobby for donations. Cash, checks or gift cards are also accepted. Monetary donations can be made out to ‘FOP 36’ and put ‘Santa’s Elficers’ in the memo.
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