For the past fifty-one years, members of the Metro Nashville Police Department, Music City Hogs and other volunteers have spread Christmas cheer to families across Nashville, TN.
With help from motorcycle riders with the Music City HOGs and Boswell's Harley, the Metro Police Department collected thousands of toys for children during the Boswell’s 18th Annual Toy Parade in early November. The toys, along with donated food and cash, all went to the department's Christmas Basket Program.
The program, which was started by former police chief, Joe Casey, began as a small program in 1961. Casey asked his officers to forego sending Christmas cards and buying gifts for fellow officers, instead using the money they would have spent to buy gifts and food for families they knew were in need. Since that time, the program has grown, serving more than 230 families this year, including some 400 children and 60 senior citizens.
Each year, officers with the department submit applications on behalf of citizens they meet throughout the year. Families with children 12-years-old or younger are eligible for the program. Elderly citizens age 60 or above are also eligible. The applications are screened and the neediest of families are selected. Beginning the week before Christmas, volunteers from the police department, Boswell's, Music City HOGs, and other citizens begin putting the gift and food baskets together. On Christmas Eve morning, those same volunteers descend on a warehouse in West Nashville to begin putting the finishing touches on food baskets before loading them and toys into their vehicles. By 9:00 a.m., officers and volunteers begin their deliveries.
The officers receive gifts by giving back to the community. “Chief Elf” and Hermitage Precinct Commander, Michele Donegan, coordinates the volunteers and Christmas basket program. She told Fox17:
"When you drop those baskets and those toys off and have that momma or that grandmother hug you with tears in their eyes, that's what it's all about, it's so addictive, you can't wait for next year to do it again."
Digital Journal was privileged enough to be at the warehouse Monday. We spoke with Officer Brown, who echoed Donegan's sentiments, saying:
"We get so much more than we give. The smiles, happy tears and hugs warm your heart and reminds you that part of the Christmas spirit is helping others. All of us became police officers because we have a genuine desire to help and serve others, but often times we don't see that our efforts really make a difference. When you get a hug or high five from a child, or hear one of them say 'I didn't know cops were Santa elves', you can't help but smile and know that you really have made a difference in someone's life."
Although Digital Journal did not follow the officers during their deliveries, we were able to capture the hard work and dedication these officers and volunteers put into this years program. Here is just a sample of what we saw.
Bikes and other toys are ready to be delivered by Metro Police Officers.
As one officer participating in this year's Christmas basket program told Digital Journal:
"It is nice to show people that we do more than just put people in jail. We can bring joy and happiness to members of the community as well. And that gives us a lot of joy too."