Sirens for Santa coming to Locust Grove
By Jason A. Smith
For Henry County Police Detective Sgt. Wayne Bender, a highlight of the holiday season is when he sees smiles on the faces of young people participating in the local Sirens for Santa program.
“They come up to you, they give you a hug and they thank you, said Bender. “It’s sincere and it’s not something that their parents told them to do.”
A child speaks with Santa Clause at a previous Sirens for Santa program. Special photo
Bender, along with a number of Henry County Police officers and employees, will take part Dec. 15 in the 19th annual Sirens for Santa event, formerly known as Shop with a Cop. Law-enforcement personnel will meet kids at the Locust Grove Recreation Center, and take them to the Locust Grove Walmart in their patrol cars to go shopping for Christmas. Officers will escort the children through aisles of toys, electronics and clothes, so the kids can pick out what they want to bring home.
After the shopping spree, the kids will be invited to a Christmas party with the officers.
Bender is the president of the Henry County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 95, which is sponsoring Sirens for Santa. The sergeant has been involved with the annual yuletide occasion for several years, and said it has helped to provide Christmas gifts for children in need.
“You can tell that they’re thankful for the opportunity to get these presents,” said Bender. “A lot of these kids, this could be the only Christmas that they actually have.”
Throughout the history of the Sirens for Santa program, children have not only gotten gifts for themselves, but for others in their families as well. The kids have bought toys, clothing and hygiene products and have combined their funds together with their siblings for major purchases.
FOP Lodge No. 95 held events throughout the year to generate spending money to be used in Sirens for Santa. Police officers and school crossing guards volunteered together at a golf tournament, sponsored by the FOP, as well as participating in a parking detail at the Kiwanis Henry County Fair in October.
Bender noted that participation in the program is “strictly voluntary” for officers and civilians in the police department, and said obtaining their assistance is usually not a difficult task. In fact, he said officers have been asking about it for weeks.
“Police-wise, we usually average about 50 officers,” he said. “They look forward to this every year.”
As for the impact of the program since its inception, Bender said he has been encouraged by the feedback he has gotten from the kids over the years.
“You know the program is a success when a child tells you in the beginning of the program that he doesn’t like police, but at the end of the program he is hugging you and telling you he had the best time of his life,” said Bender. “I couldn’t think of a better way to add to the holiday spirit.”