Santa’s Helpers were wearing police uniforms when they took the time to pick-up Christmas presents from community business sponsors of the “Help Families in Need” program, sponsored by the Hazelwood Police Department’s Benevolent Association. Most of the over-whelming number of gifts they picked up were purchased and wrapped by employees of bioMérieux and Bommarito Ford Superstore for families adopted by this program.
In addition to his efforts as a school resource officer, P.O. Timothy Benning started up the “Help Families in Need” program in partnership with the Hazelwood Police Department’s Benevolent Association and has helped maintain it over the past 25 years. To date, he has assisted over 300 families, oftentimes impacting multiple generations. The families adopted by this program all reside in the City of Hazelwood and their children attend local schools. This year, Officer Benning and the Benevolent Association sponsored 14 families, which is the largest number of families they have helped in one year.
They rely on the generous support of local business partners such as bioMérieux, Bommarito Ford Superstore, Nature’s Bakery, Cabela’s and Burner Design & Control. In addition, the HPD is grateful to the students of McCurdy Elementary School in Florissant who held a gift drive and donated approximately 50 gifts to the department for the needy families.
This year, bioMérieux adopted eight families, Bommarito Ford Superstore adopted one family, Nature’s Bakery adopted one family, Burner Design & Control adopted one family, and the Hazelwood Police Department adopted three families. To handle all the gift wishes for members of eight families, bioMérieux put three miniature Christmas trees on display in the employees lunch room and hung the gift wishes on the trees like ornaments. The employees picked a gift wish, went to buy it and then wrapped it during one of their gift wrapping parties. Before the deadline date, every gift wish was taken off the trees.
In addition to supplying enough Christmas gifts to fill six vehicles, bioMérieux’s generous cash donation enabled the Benevolent Association to provide housing for one of the families. The Association paid the first month’s rent, security deposit and all the processing fees. The family moved out of the hotel room where they were living and into a new home on December 22. This is the second consecutive year that the Association has been able to move a family into their own home by Christmas. There was still money left over to pay off the utility bills for the other seven adopted families.
“I’m proud to say I work at bioMérieux and have been a part of this wonderful gift giving experience for 14 years. Officer Benning rocks. He brings Christ back into Christmas,” Rose Schulte said. “Thanks for sharing the true meaning of Christmas, giving to others in the community we work in.”
Ms. Kaitlin Coffman and Ms. Gina Flaugher spearheaded this charity Christmas project for Bommarito Ford Superstore for the first time this year. Bommarito donated $1,000 to adopt one family and purchased all the presents, wrapped them and put them under the Christmas tree in their showroom. They also added a cash donation plus gift cards for the family.
Officer Benning and the Benevolent Association try to protect the privacy of each family that is adopted for this program. But here are some examples of why these particular families were chosen:
- One of the families lost their mother right before Thanksgiving due to cancer. Officer Benning worked with the mother, prior to her passing. to make sure her children had a nice Christmas. She felt bad that her family had fallen on hard times because of her medical bills.
- One family has an 11-year-old daughter who is battling cancer. The mother had to take family leave in order to take care of her, which has created a financial burden for them.
- A woman left an abusive relationship with her husband and is now a single-mom on her own trying to make it and support her young children.
- Another family is currently homeless and the Benevolent Association is working on trying to find a home for them by the first of the year. The mother is suffering from bone cancer and has put off treatment until she knows her family has a place to live.
A lot of support also comes from generous contributions made by City employees and residents. “What I tell people who make a donation is this: Celebrating the true spirit of Christmas is giving of oneself to help someone in need while asking for nothing in return,” Hazelwood P.O. Tim Benning noted.