Police officers manned the grill, handed out toys and even jumped alongside children in a bounce house on Friday, delivering a message that they care and providing youngsters with a day of positive activities.
Nearly 300 children came out to the Bradenton Police Department’s second annual Christmas in July event at the City Life Church, 1300 17th Ave. W., Bradenton.
It couldn’t be a party without a bounce house for the kids, Police Chief Melanie Bevan said.
“We look all the time for different events that we can host to better connect with our community members, and especially our kids,” Bevan said. “Yesterday, 30 officers went out and they helped build a home with Habitat for Humanity, but in the end that was a little more for the adults. So what we always want to do is offset what we do with adult members of our community with the children.”
So, the department developed Christmas in July last year and hosts it “on the hottest day of the year,” the chief of police joked. “It doesn’t seem like anyone cares.”
The department received donations of hundreds of toys, school supplies and even Girl Scout cookies that were distributed to children from the community including those brought by local organizations such as the 13 AV Dream Center.
“We’re a little busy at the police department. We don’t have time to play with them, so what better thing to do than give them away to community members especially in the summer when parents are trying to find things for the kids to do,” Bevan said.
Taelor Rome, 9, was all smiles after getting her new toys and supplies. She thought the event put on by the police officers was “fun” and “happy.”
“I think that’s pretty nice,” the girl said. “The police are protecting us and making sure we are OK.”
John Carnegie, program director at the Dream Center, said what the police department and the City Life Church are doing is the same thing the center tries to do every day: break the cycle.
“To give them an opportunity to live out their dream and be consumed what’s happening around them in their community, so I commend the Bradenton Police Department and the community as a whole for raising these kids and giving them the opportunity to have fun and build these relationships that they are building,” Carnegie said.
Several detectives within the department, including Detective Chris Deshaies, helped organize Friday’s event.
Food prepared by officers, the bounce house and snow cones from Kona Ice were paid for using some of the police department’s forfeiture funds. Kona Ice also donated some of the snow cones enjoyed by children.
More than 35 bicycles, donated to the department, were also given to children during the earlier part of the five-hour event.
“We want to show the community that we care more than once a year,” Deshaies said. “With everything going on in the country and the world, we want them to know they can come to us.”
Other local organizations including Centerstone, the Early Learning Coalition and the Bradenton Marauders participated in the event with additional giveaways and information for children and their families.
Bradenton police also used the event as another opportunity to teach children about what they do on the job and show them many of the special vehicles in their fleet.
Seeing the SWAT team’s armored vehicle was the best part of the event for 9-year-old Keith Potter.
“I’m going to be on the SWAT team one day,” Keith said.
He was fascinated by how the vehicle is bullet-proof and imagined how officers suit up in their gear and at times hang off the vehicle.
The Bradenton Police Explorers program members were also at the event, using it as an opportunity to provide children and their families with personal identification kits. The kits allow parents to have a record of their children’s fingerprints, contact information for their friends and even DNA samples.
“It’s really difficult to get this from parents when they are upset,” said program coordinator Kimberly Camacho.
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