By KRISSI HUMBARD — The snowy weather may have thrown a slight wrench in the plans, but area police officers wouldn’t let that keep Santa from paying a visit to some local kids in need.
Police officers from 11 different police agencies came together Dec. 9 to take 75 kids holiday shopping at the Mall at Prince Georges (MPG) and Target for Operation Santa with a Badge. Kids were picked up from four local elementary schools — University Park, Rosa Parks, Felegy and Hyattsville — and paired with an officer. Each child was given a $100 gift card. The kids then got to ride to the mall in the police car — with lights and sirens going.
Hyattsville City Police Department (HCPD) Officer Chris Evans was paired with Henry, a third-grader at Hyattsville Elementary, for his shopping trip. Henry is no stranger to HCPD officers; he used to live near the station and would hang out and talk to the officers on duty. But shopping with the police? That was a new, “exciting” experience.
“I’m heading straight to the toy aisle!” Henry exclaimed on the ride to the mall.
Evans said his very first assignment as an HCPD officer was Operation Santa. Participating in Operation Santa for the third time, he said his favorite part is seeing the kids in the police car, flipping the lights and sirens on, and their excitement while they shop.
After picking up the kids, officers joined back up to travel to MPG together, lights and sirens blasting, with Santa leading the way in the HCPD Hummer. (It’s quite the spectacle that draws residents out to watch.) The kids and their officer partners then flooded into the mall, many heading to Target, but others stopping off to use Visa gift cards at other stores.
There were smiles everywhere you looked as the kids shopped with their officers. It was difficult to tell who was having more fun — the children or the police officers.
“I think it’s a pretty even break,” HCPD Chief Doug Holland said, with a smile.
Henry did indeed head straight for the toy aisle with Officer Evans. “I really like remote control cars,” Henry had said on the ride over. He browsed the cars and trucks before picking out a few — including a chase set with a police car. And then he and Evans found the big — expensive — trucks. Evans went above and beyond and used his own money to give Henry something he really wanted: a giant remote-controlled truck. (Evans wasn’t the only officer to spread cheer using personal funds that day.)
“The kids love the program, of course, but so do the officers,” HCPD Sgt. Suzie Johnson said. “They often make personal donations when the kids use up their gift certificates because the kids often buy gifts for their family members before they get something for themselves.”
Generosity was flowing that day.
Aiyana Sipe was one of the children participating in the program. A school representative reached out to Sgt. Johnson to see if her younger brother Michael could also participate. Michael Sipe was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma in 2015. He has gone through many treatments but, according to a GoFundMe page set up for him by a neighbor, Michael’s cancer is in remission. Chanel and Theodore Diggs heard about Aiyana, a student at Hyattsville Elementary School, and her brother, Michael, and immediately wanted to sponsor them. The Diggs family helped Aiyana and Michael fill a cart with gifts, then generously paid for them all.
“My 8-year-old son said he wanted to give back to someone this year. And we just ran with it,” Chanel Diggs said. “This is awesome,” she added with a wide smile.
Operation Santa with a Badge ends with a party for the kids and officers featuring a visit from Santa and a raffle for even more gifts, donated this year by the Prince George’s County Sheriff’s Office. The party is usually held at Northwestern High School. At the last minute, the snow forced the plans to change and Sgt. Johnson had to find a new venue. First United Methodist Church of Hyattsville offered their event space. And Chanel Diggs, the manager of the Giant Food grocery store on East West Highway, once again showed her generosity: Giant Food donated some of the food for the party, Diggs loaned some giant inflatable decorations from her personal stock, and she took the time to help decorate the party space.
HCPD has been hosting the annual program since 2003. That year, 13 children participated. Each year, the program has grown. This year about 60 local children were joined by 16 children from Laurel.
Officers from HCPD, Prince George’s County Sheriff’s Office, Prince George’s County Police Department, Takoma Park Police Department, University Park Police Department, Mount Rainier Police Department, Bladensburg Police Department, Edmonston Police Department, Maryland Transportation Authority, Laurel Police Department, and Riverdale Park Police Department participated this year.
Operation Santa with a Badge was managed by HCPD Sgt. Johnson this year. Sgt. Johnson collected donations to purchase gift certificates for the children, recruited officers and coordinated with the local schools. Each child was selected by their school’s administration to participate based on their eligibility.
“It was a wonderful day — and the snow really made it feel like Christmas,” Johnson said. “I would like to thank all the police officers and sponsors because without everyone, this would not have been the huge success that it was.”