Thursday, December 23, 2010

Santa Claus gets help from local FOP and Victim Witness to brighten holiday for those touched by crime

By Mike Ullery

Chief Photographer

A convoy of law enforcement vehicles from county and city agencies around Miami County pulled up in front of a small house in a Troy neighborhood on Wednesday evening. Uniformed and plain-clothes officers spilled from the vehicles, formed up and made their way to the front door of the home.

They were not there to break down doors or order anyone from the home. Leading the group was a man, dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot … His eyes, how they twinkled, his dimple so merry. His cheeks were like roses. His nose like a cherry.

This night, rather than using the chimney, Santa Claus led members of Miami County FOP Lodge 58 and Miami County Victim Witness employees through the front door of homes and apartments to visit children and families from around the area whose lives had been touched by violence and crimes.

Deanna Hardin, Director of Miami County Victim Witness, a department within the Miami County Prosecutors’s Office, said that they received anonymous donations totaling more that $1500 to purchase gifts for families who are under the care of victim witness.

Hardin and her associates look forward to this time of year. “This is the fun thing we get to do out of the whole entire year,” said Hardin, “most everything we do is bad, this is good.” The “bad” Hardin refers to is that she, and her associates, provide assistance, comfort and direction to people, on what is probably the worst day of their lives.

Those who have been affected by murder, rape and other violent crimes are met by victim witness employees, who work with family members, not only on the day of their tragedy, but also help them get through the ordeals ahead, including appearing in court and getting their lives back together in future months and years.

Victim witness employees used the donations, most of which were Kohl’s gift cards to purchase gifts for “their” family members.

Some families are not necessarily “in need” financially, Hardin said, “but had really bad things happen this year, so we really wanted Santa to come to their house.” In particular, Hardin mentioned children and family members of recent homicide victims. Hardin said that those kids, “deserved Santa to come to their house,” to help them get through their first Christmas without a brother or father who was taking from them.

Much of the donated money is spent of practical gifts. Hardin described one victim whose only pair of boots are still being held as evidence in a case. She was wearing a pair of cloth shoes, the only pair she had when Hardin took her to visit Kohl’s, in Troy. The lady shared that she had never been to Kohl’s.

Hardin smiled as she recalled her shopping companion’s reaction when she told her she could pick out any pair of boots that she wanted. “And, she was so practical,” Hardin said, “she bought her kids warm socks, blankets, boots and one toy.”

Local FOP members feel the same way about the Santa visits as their victim witness counterparts. The opportunity to bring joy and cheer to a family following a tragic event, makes Christmas brighter for law enforcement officers, as well.

The reaction of the children visited by Santa was universal. That magical look in their eyes matched the twinkle in Santa’s eyes as Santa entered each home, trailed by his “elves.” Moms, dads, and grandparents were overjoyed as they watched Santa greet the children and, in some cases, help them open one of the presents Santa’s elves placed under the family Christmas Tree.

It was obvious why this night was so special to the workers from victim witness. They were the first to be hugged, after Santa Claus of course, by these special kids. There was not a dry eye in the house.

Victim witness workers and FOP members know that nothing anyone can do will ever replace a son, father or brother who was tragically taken by a violent crime.

They do know that, they, with a little help from some good Samaritans, can help make Christmas brighter for those who are the victims of violence, if only for a little while. That is what Christmas is about.

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