December 5, 2018
Not long ago, an Appleton police officer ticketed an elderly man for shoplifting. It was a hard day and duty. But he knew December would arrive soon and he would have an opportunity to find that gentleman again and share a positive interaction through the Lights of Christmas program.
“The elderly gentleman is in his mid-80s. He’s living by himself, no family, fixed income, desperate. He’s stealing food because he didn’t have anything to eat,” Appleton Police Chief Todd Thomas said.
Thanks to community members and businesses who have embraced the third annual Lights of Christmas initiative, that officer and many others throughout Northeast Wisconsin are now armed with the perfect holiday antidote.
On Dec. 1, area police departments gathered with volunteers to stuff donated items into 600 “blessing bags” to distribute to individuals and families who are hurting and could use a lift during the holiday season. The departments split up $50,000 worth of donated or purchased gift cards and other donations for police officers to distribute at their discretion this month.
It’s exactly what Katie Connell, community outreach director at Christian radio station Q90FM, envisioned in 2016 when she came up with the Lights of Christmas idea after a shooting killed five police officers in Dallas.
“It’s so overwhelming,” said Connell of the growth of the program. The first year two departments (Appleton and Green Bay) shared about $10,000 in donated items and gift cards. A year ago, five departments were involved and shared more donated items and about $25,000 in gift cards.
Community First Credit Union has partnered with Q90FM on its Police Lights of Christmas initiative from the beginning. This year, Community First promoted the program, collected donations at all branches and donated the 600 blessing bags that are now filled with hats, gloves, mittens, hand-warmers and much more.
“Community First member-owners stepped up again this year,” said Community First’s Cathy Mutschler, Vice President of Community Relations. “By the end of November, we turned over more than $10,500 to the Lights of Christmas effort! It’s an honor to be able to help local police provide a positive boost to individuals and families during the holidays.”
Chief Thomas said Lights of Christmas is one of the most impactful community programs he has seen in his law enforcement career. “You really can’t put a price tag on it,” said Thomas. “It’s unbelievably special. It’s the spirit of the holidays – the spirit of Christmas.”
Officers from the following agencies help spread Christmas blessings
· Green Bay
· Fond du Lac
· Grand Chute
· Fox Valley Metro
· Fox Crossing
· Manitowoc County
· Brown County
· Calumet County
· Winnebago County
· Sturgeon Bay
· Door County Sheriff
· Wisconsin State Patrol