By Emily Gerchman
‘Tis the season, and that means it’s a busy time for Santa and his elves at the North Pole. And with the Dunmore Police Department’s second annual toy drive well underway, it’s also a very busy time at Santa’s satellite workshop inside the Borough Building.
Thomas Richardson is a patrolman with the Dunmore Police Department. He’s held that title for 16 years, proudly serving the place he, his wife, Kristina, and their three daughters, Emily, Abigail and Madelyn, call home.
A few years ago, Richardson gained another title when he was named coordinator of the borough’s annual National Night Out.
“National Night Out is an event that is supposed to bring the communities and the police together, to not make us these unapproachable people with a badge…who are sometimes portrayed as these scary people,” said Richardson.
Some of the monetary donations brought in from National Night Out help cover various equipment and training officers at the DPD need. The rest of those bucks go right back to Bucktown to help families in need all year round, but especially around the holidays.
It was just after last year’s event when Richardson’s wheels started spinning: How can the department go “a step above” and give even more back to the community?
He pitched the idea of a holiday toy drive to his colleagues, and everyone was on board. A group of officers formed a committee. One officer even offered to dress as Santa Claus when they handed out the toys. The team then got in contact with the Dunmore School District.
“We ended up having teachers at the school, give out to every student… a want and need list for Christmas,” Richardson said.
“You have the kids who say they wanted an Xbox or a PlayStation. Then you have the kids who really were in need. Kids said they needed dryers. There were kids who said all they wanted for Christmas was a ham or a turkey…or a Christmas tree.”
The Dunmore Police put out a call to businesses in the borough, asking them to participate, and to simply say this effort “took off” would be selling it short. Frankly, it exploded into something bigger than Richardson, his fellow officers or even Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick could have ever imagined.
“The donations were endless,” Richardson explained, “and they were from near and far. I had business people from well outside our area calling me saying ‘What can I do?’ We’d have officers go on calls and people would say “Oh, I saw this on Facebook, I want to donate.’”
One business donated 20 bicycles, brand new and still in the boxes. Another donated hundreds of footballs, basketballs and soccer balls. You name it, and odds are someone donated it.
Lots of folks also donated money and gift cards, which Richardson and the rest of the toy drive committee put to good use.
“One kid, his father carried him to his school bus because he was wheelchair bound. So with the monetary donations we purchased a wheelchair lift [for him].”
Last Christmas, the DPD was able to help out more than 130 children. It was a gratifying and humbling project that took a lot of time and work, which did not go unnoticed by their boss, Dunmore Mayor Tim Burke.
“It’s a really good group effort led by Tom. The police force…the DPW, the firemen, all the restaurants and businesses… Everybody helped out to make things brighter for the children during Christmastime,” said Burke.
“And with Tom, there are so many hours that he puts in. I should say more than hours — days of his own time — just to make Dunmore a better place, and I’m just so happy we have him.”
Richardson calls last year’s toy drive “an overwhelming success.” It was a project he was happy to play a small role in and one he hopes will have even more success this year and in the years to come.
“For a lot of those kids, I truly do believe it was the Christmas they always wanted or saw on TV, but they were able to live it. It hit home to all of us…and gave a whole new meaning to Christmas.”
If you’re interested in participating in this year’s holiday toy drive, donations can be dropped of at the Dunmore Borough Building, Fidelity Bank’s location on North Blakely Street, Riccardo’s Market and DePietro’s Pharmacy.