Wyandotte PD transforms lobby into a COVID-safe winter wonderland
By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
WYANDOTTE – With pandemic precautions paramount, police personnel and supporters opted to host their annual Shop with a Cop event onsite Dec. 5, transforming the justice center lobby into a winter wonderland.
The Joseph R. Peterson Justice Building, 2015 Biddle Ave., which houses the 27th District Court and the police station, temporarily transformed its lobby into a hall of holiday splendor, with festive decorations, a shimmering tree, mounds of temptingly wrapped gifts, helpful elves, cops in red tasseled hats, and Saint Nicholas himself.
Deputy Police Chief Archie Hamilton said as they approached their fourth year of Shop with a Cop, the coronavirus conditions challenged them to find a safe way to continue their annual tradition.
“The chief and I sat down and figured, ‘What can we do?’” he said. “We still want to hold the event, but we want to mitigate exposure for everybody.”
Hamilton said Meijer, which is a staunch supporter of the Shop with a Cop program, provided the funds for the gifts to be purchased for the young beneficiaries.
“So, they still are participating,” he said. “We just had to find a different venue.”
After brain-storming, Hamilton and Police Chief Brian Zaleski opted to deck the justice center’s lobby with holiday splendor.
“We had a lot of help,” he said. “Every single officer here is volunteering their time. It’s Saturday, and they are here out of the kindness of their hearts, because they believe in this program.”
Hamilton said when the children who are chosen to participate walk in the door, they are so excited, it warms the volunteers’ hearts.
“It makes it so worth it,” he said.
Unlike shopping trips in the past to a store, where the young recipients would have a chance to purchase gifts for family members, this year, the children were requested to write out a wish list to Santa in advance of their visit.
“Santa got them everything off their wish list that he could,” Hamilton said. “They are going to get toys and necessities, like winter coats and boots, that they wouldn’t otherwise receive.”
He said the children, ages 4 to 10, come from different Downriver communities, and many attend Wyandotte schools through the Schools of Choice program, and were nominated by school personnel for the Shop with a Cop program.
Hamilton said the program donors are often from outside Wyandotte as well.
“Our community extends outside the geographical boundaries of Wyandotte,” he said. “We are here to help kids, and we’re all coming together to do that.”
Hamilton said watching the day’s events unfold is rewarding to the volunteers.
“It is so worth it, when I see these kids and the excitement on their face,” he said. “These children are dealing with stressors that children shouldn’t have to deal with, and their parents are, as well. So, by us hosting this event, we can take that stress away from them for just one day, and that’s what we’re doing.”
In a “normal” year, the Wyandotte Police Department would treat about 30 children to its Shop with a Cop program, but this year, they hosted seven, to offer each family a separate time slot in which to visit the transformed lobby. As a result, each participant was generously gifted.
Hamilton said the city of Wyandotte’s special events staff was instrumental in helping create the holiday decorative magic.
Santa, aka Glenn Meyring of Grosse Ile Township, said it was heartwarming to watch happiness spread across the children’s faces.
“With COVID-19 going on and all, if these kids are happy for a little bit, that’s great,” he said. “It is all about making the kids happy.”
Volunteer Mary Groat of Wyandotte, who helped with Shop with a Cop in the past, said it is great to see the children’s excitement.
“It just melts you,” she said. “You just feel it, especially now, with everything so crazy.”
“It’s the true meaning of Christmas, for sure,” her daughter-in-law and fellow volunteer Rachel Groat of Wyandotte, said.
One of the recipients, Zachary Hodge, 4, who has ganglioneuroblastoma, a rare pediatric cancer, was initially overwhelmed and shy when he arrived with his parents, Rebecca and Larry Hodge. But soon the excitement of presents and the thrill of seeing Santa buoyed his confidence, and he was soon enjoying the experience.
Rebecca Hodge said Zachary recently spent 11 days in the hospital, which is scary for anyone, but especially so for a 4-year-old. She said it was great to finally have him home and happy.
Zachary has a twin brother, Christian, 4, and an 8-year-old brother, Jeremiah. He said he was looking forward to showing them the new truck he received.
“I am gonna show them how to drive it,” he said.
Rebecca Hodge said the experience was overwhelming and the generosity was appreciated.
“Our worlds were turned upside down about a month ago, when Zachary was diagnosed with ganglioneuroblastoma, with a tumor about the size of a softball in his pelvic cavity,” she said. “Following further tests, we found that it is in stage four, and has metastasized in his spine, his pelvic bones, his legs and even possibly part of his rib cage.”
Hodge said her son had undergone one round of chemo, and would soon undergo another round.
“We ask if anyone can pray for him, and keep our family in your prayers, so we can make sure he is able to beat this,” she said. “We have always been a family that has always given back, so, now, to be on the receiving end, is a little different, but obviously, with everything, it will be a challenge for Christmas this year.”