BURRILLVILLE – For the families selected as recipients in the Burrillville Police Department’s annual Adopt-a-Family initiative, the experience can actually be life-changing.
The program, now underway, provides not just the hoped-for Christmas toys and clothes for kids, but a complete holiday for the families that benefit, from stuffed stockings and presents for mom and dad, to gift certificates to local grocery stores and restaurants.
The heart-warming community effort to not just meet, but rather exceed the hopes of local families in need is now in full swing at Burrillville Police Department headquarters. Around a dozen new bikes fill up the entryway to the safety complex, and a hallway, normally reserved for official police business, has games and trinkets covering every open surface.
Officers are running out of space, but they don’t seem to mind one bit.
“We’ve gotten to the point where we need to find space for all of the toys,” a smiling Col. Stephen Lynch told NRI NOW.
The department is helping eight families with a total of 22 children in 2021. To take on the task, Lynch named four volunteer captains to lead teams of law enforcement elves: Lt. Jason Eddy; Sgt. Robert Veader; Off Sean Mulkern and dispatcher Keith McCarthy. The department held a draft to select team members, who will all contribute to the overall effort to make this year’s Christmas the best holiday yet for the recipients.
“I wanted the colonel for my first pick,” said Veader.
Lynch said that just after he announced the effort, he found Officer Jennifer Baker organizing lists of needed gifts in the station hallway.
“I told her, ‘This is why you’re a first round draft pick,'” Lynch said.
The officers’ work is supplemented by contributions from both residents and the business community, with hundreds of donors each helping in their own way.
The Burrillville High School Student Council fills Christmas stockings for each family member every year, while a private donor purchases all of the needed winter jackets. One family of contributors makes it their job to find any needed sweatshirts and slippers, while students with the Burrillville Prevention Action Coalition show up at the station to help organize and wrap gifts. Another family donates pizza and snacks every year for all of the volunteers.
In 2021, one North Smithfield-based business took on purchasing toiletries and household goods, while Burrillville’s Alashan Cashmere stepped up to contribute the pajamas and books. Massive donations came in from contributors including Ocean State Jeepsters, Richardson Sawmill, Tim Burdick and Wallum Lake Rod and Gun Club.
This year, Town Manager Michael Wood made it his job to focus on dinosaurs, with plastic replicas – including toys that roar to chomp – ready to take their place beneath the Christmas trees of Burrillville families.
The drive is limited to those Burrillville families in need, and organizer Lisa Rabideau, the chief’s administrative assistant, noted that all donations to the program stay in town.
The chief himself started the department’s Adopt-a-Family drive after coming to Burrillville in 2013, and every year since, the BPD has received a list of qualified recipients from both schools and town-based non-profit Between the Cracks, with the caveat that each family can only have their wish list filled one time. Other families in the program will still receive gifts, of course, but those covered by the department will witness a community effort that goes above and beyond any traditional help.
“The average reaction most people have is tears,” said Lynch. “This program works. It changes their Chirstmas immensely.”
Rabideau said one former recipient is now an annual donor and volunteer.
“She says it changed her life,” Rabideau said.
“We have hundreds of people from the community who come in and provide one or two gifts,” she added.
Rabideau is tasked with organizing those donations and keeping the massive charitable effort on track, contacting each family to see what might be needed beyond their basic list. Excess donations are shipped off to help other families, such as those served by the Burrillville School Department, or stored in the station basement for future charitable initiatives.
Monetary donations are turned into extras such as gift cards to local supermarkets, including, in 2020, $350 toward groceries for each family.
“The outpouring from the community has just been huge,” said Lynch. “Once we get going, there’s not a day that goes by without someone coming in with a donation.”
For department staff, too often accustomed to seeing people at their worst in their daily work, Lynch notes the holiday effort is a refreshing change.
“At this time of year, you meet people who are just humble, generous and kind,” Lynch said. “It’s really nice to see. This is people at their best, and it’s a great pick-me-up.”
“Some of my best memories in life are Christmas as a child,” said Eddy. “To be able to do that for someone is worth its weight in gold.”
Gifts will continue to come in through next Wednesday, Dec. 15, and the department went through some 100 or so rolls of wrapping paper this weekend, as an army of volunteers prepared the presents.
It all will end next week with the often emotional climax – a pickup event in which police personnel hand the holiday bounty to grateful families.
“My favorite part of the whole program is watching officers in uniform carrying out pile after pile of colorful packages,” said Rabideau. “It’s a really touching moment.”