Members of law enforcement agencies in Harvey County are working together, looking to make the holiday season a little brighter for the families they serve.
Last year, Officer Gary Littlejohn of the Newton Police Department noted in his work as a school resource officer that the majority of students were on free or reduced lunches. He led efforts to collect money to provide Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, and the donations he was given were used to collect food for 36 families.
"We have a lot of students that could use assistance for the holidays," Littlejohn said.
When Captain Mark Scheffler of the Harvey County Sheriff's Office heard about what Littlejohn did, he reached out to see if they could combine their efforts to impact even more families in Harvey County.
"He's doing this and it dawns on me — I've spent the last 20 years working with the Sedgwick County sheriffs," Scheffler said. "They do a food drive and they raise about $45,000."
Around 600 families in Sedgwick County receive boxes of food during the holidays.
Scheffler and Littlejohn are instituting the program, called First Responders Holiday Helpers, and want to have it benefit families in every community in Harvey County.
"We are looking at trying to give to 100 to 150 families here," Littlejohn said.
The organizers will ask each community in Harvey County to give them a list families in need, many of which are identified through school systems and law enforcement contacts.
"It's all the police departments and the sheriff's office...it's a total county effort," Scheffler said. "We want to give back to the community and help the people we recognize have a need."
Littlejohn said the First Responders Holiday Helpers program is meant to give families extra room in their budget to use for presents or other items that they could not otherwise afford.
"The holidays just make it 10 times worse and add more stress, so if we could help out a little bit, it'd take some of that stress off," Littlejohn said.
With companies like Agco and Excel laying off employees this year, Scheffler said he thinks there are hundreds of people who could use the assistance.
"The neat thing about this is it's not going to be Gary or me knocking on a door, charging into a house to break up a domestic and take mom and dad away," Scheffler said. "We all know law enforcement officers get a bad name, but we're human and we want to help the community we serve."
The money that is donated will be used to purchase around $75 worth of non-perishable staple items such as macaroni and cheese, soup, canned vegetables and breakfast cereal for families in need.
"There's probably two weeks' worth of food there," Scheffler said.
The food items will be ordered and delivered to the Dillon's warehouse in Goddard on pallets. Around 50 police, sheriff and fire/EMS workers volunteer their time to package the selections together.
"One day, we go down there and we set up an assembly line," Scheffler said. "We box it up and deliver it to the families."
Donations given to First Responders Holiday Helpers will stretch a little further with Dillon's pledging to donate an additional 10% of the amount that is raised.
"It's a great opportunity for the law enforcement community to show that we protect and serve," Scheffler said.
To make a donation to the program, send a check made out to First Responders Holiday Helpers to the Harvey County Sheriff 's Office or the Newton Police Department, 120 E. Seventh St., Newton, KS 67114.